By John CiardiThe reason for the pelicanIs difficult to see;His beak is clearly largerThan there’s any need to be.It’s not to bail a boat with –He doesn’t own a boat.Yet everywhere he takes himselfHe has that beak to tote.It’s not to keep his wife in –His wife has got one, too –It’s not a scoop for eating soup,It’s not an extra shoe.It isn’t quite for anything.And yet you realize,It’s really quite a splendid beakIn quite a splendid size.
A wonderful bird is a pelican,His bill will hold more than his belican.He can take in his beakFood enough for a week;But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
“It partly closes its wings and curves its neck to draw its head back toward its shoulders. Just prior to hitting the water, the pelican goes through a number of quick contortions that are almost too quick for the eye to catch.
It folds back its wings and turns its body so it is actually upside down and at about a 70-degree angle as it enters the water. A split-second before striking the surface, the bird also extends its neck so the bill and its pouch are also upside down.
Years of this kind of feeding eventually kills off older birds. Each time they contact the water, they further damage their eyes until they become blind and are no longer able to feed themselves.
The heads and necks of brown pelicans are white most of the year, but during the breeding season the heads become yellow and the sides of the head reddish-brown.
The female lays one clutch a year in March or April, of two – three eggs which incubate in about one month. The nests are usually found in mangrove trees in large colonies of up to several thousand birds. Both
parents incubate the eggs with their feet and take turns feeding the newborn chicks and keeping them warm as they emerge with no feathers, just a thin white fuzz. Truly only a parent pelican could love these prehistoric-looking plucked critters. After about five weeks the chicks head for flight school and independence.
According to Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Research which collects brown pelican data, the birds provide an excellent indicator of the health of the coastal environment as brown pelican nesting declines when mangroves are destroyed or their food supply is threatened.
Pelicans have been around, according to scientists, for 40 million years and are often seen at marinas and piers, begging food and scraps from returning fishermen, their heads following the hands of those cleaning fish like spectators at a tennis match. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Research (FWC) always requests that no one feed pelicans for many reasons:
- they can become dependent on handouts, won’t migrate south
when necessary and can become ill from exposure to cold
- Scraps from fisherman can contain large bones which can get
stuck in their throats and choke or kill then
- near docks and piers, pelicans can become entangled in fishing
line or injured by hooks
Brown pelicans almost vanished from North America between the 1950s and early 1970s because of pesticide use. Run-off containing pesticides entered rivers and eventually the ocean, which then contaminated the fish pelicans fed on. While many died, pesticides also caused the surviving birds to lay thin-shelled eggs that often would be crushed under the weight of the parents incubating them.
The brown pelican was on the endangered species list in 1970. Following the ban on DDT in 1972, the reproduction rates of the pelicans significantly improved, according to FWC. As a result, pelicans were taken off the endangered species list in the southeast United States in 1985 and by the 1990s, pelican populations had returned to pre-DDT levels. The brown pelican is a success story for conservationists everywhere.
The next time that you are studying the horizon for a green flash, and you observe a graceful flock of pelicans winging their way back to a rookery at sunset, perhaps you will be reminded of the ways in which this hardy bird depends on us to aid in its survival.
Pelicans at sea
Giant cups with wings
Fish peek out each side