Pelican | Exploring the World of Wildlife: facts about the Pelican

Pelicans are a genus of large water birds that are characterized by a long beak and a large throat pouch used for catching prey and draining water from the scooped-up contents before swallowing. They belong to the family Pelecanidae.

There are eight living species of pelicans. They can be found on all continents except Antarctica, ranging in environments from tropical to temperate. Their diet primarily consists of fish, but they are often opportunistic feeders and consume other types of aquatic animals such as crustaceans.

The pelican’s large throat pouch isn’t just for show; it’s a built-in fishing net. The pouch can hold up to three gallons of water in some species, which is often more than their stomach can actually hold. After a pelican scoops fish into its pouch, it will tip its beak down to drain out the water, then swallow the fish whole.

Pelicans spot fish while flying overhead or floating on the water’s surface. For some species like the Brown Pelican, they will dive from a great height straight into the water to capture fish.

When they spot their prey, they thrust their beaks into the water, opening their large pouches to create a kind of net.

The pelican’s pouch can expand dramatically to accommodate both the water and the fish. In some cases, it can stretch to hold up to three times more mass than the bird’s stomach.

Once they close their beak, the pouch traps the fish inside. The bird then lifts its head and allows the water to drain out of the sides of its beak.

When all the water is drained out, the pelican will reposition the fish, if necessary, to be swallowed head-first. The fish is then ingested whole.

This unique feeding method makes the pelican an efficient and successful predator in its aquatic habitat.

Pelicans have an impressive wingspan. Depending on the species, it can range between 6 and 12 feet, one of the largest among all bird species.

The wingspan of pelicans is indeed quite impressive and ranks among the largest in the bird world. This large wingspan serves several important purposes for these birds.

Pelicans often have to cover large distances in search of food, and having a large wingspan helps them do this efficiently. Their large wings allow them to glide and soar on thermal air currents for long periods without having to flap their wings frequently, conserving energy in the process.

The large wingspan is also an advantage when pelicans go fishing. For example, Brown Pelicans use their wings to create a kind of barrier around the fish, preventing them from escaping, when they dive into the water to catch them.

Pelicans can use their large wingspan to appear more intimidating to predators or rivals. By spreading their wings wide, they can make themselves look larger and more formidable.

This adaptation, along with others, makes pelicans perfectly suited to their primarily aquatic lifestyles.

Pelicans, like many birds, have a system of air sacs that extend from their lungs and are situated between their skin and muscles and also inside their bones. These air sacs serve multiple functions:

The air sacs help pelicans float high on the water. This is especially important for these birds because they spend a lot of time on the water’s surface, where they do much of their hunting.

When pelicans dive into the water to catch fish – a behavior especially prominent in species like the Brown Pelican – the air sacs help to cushion the impact. This is vital because these dives can be from considerable heights and at high speeds.

In general for birds, these air sacs also play a role in respiration, providing a continuous flow of fresh oxygen-rich air through their lungs, even when they exhale.

They also have a role in thermal regulation, helping to cool the bird’s body when it’s flying or exerting itself.

In summary, the air sacs are an important adaptation that contributes to the pelican’s ability to thrive in its particular ecological niche.

Pelicans show incredible parental care. Both parents share duties of incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks once they hatch.

In times of extreme scarcity, pelicans have been observed engaging in a type of self-sacrifice to ensure their young receive adequate nutrition. This behavior involves the pelican regurgitating a nutrient-rich secretion from their throat lining to feed their young. This secretion, also known as pigeon milk in species like pigeons and doves that exhibit similar behavior, provides essential nutrients for the chicks’ development.

It’s important to note that this behavior, while fascinating, is relatively rare and is a sign of the extreme lengths that pelicans can go to ensure the survival of their offspring in challenging circumstances. The provision of the regular diet, primarily fish, is crucial for the healthy growth and survival of the chicks.

Pelicans are known for their relatively long lifespan. In the wild, they typically live between 15 to 25 years, but in captivity, they have been known to live up to 30 years or more. The longevity of pelicans can be attributed to their lack of natural predators and a diet rich in nutrition.

Many pelican species do build their nests on the ground, particularly on isolated islands where ground-based predators are less of a threat. These nests are usually simple scrapes in the ground lined with a few sticks and feathers. Sometimes, they might choose to nest in low shrubs or trees if available.

While ground nesting may seem unusual compared to many other bird species, it actually makes sense given the pelican’s size and aquatic lifestyle. The locations they choose for nesting are often relatively flat, near water, and free of many ground-based predators, making the ground a safe and convenient place for them to lay their eggs.

Non-Vocal Communication: Pelicans are largely silent birds. However, they communicate using a range of non-vocal signals, like slapping their bills against their necks or performing specific aerial displays.

Pelicans often use body language and physical displays to communicate with each other. These signals can be used to indicate a variety of messages, from asserting dominance to showing submission. They can also use these signals to court mates and communicate with their young.

Pelicans’ reliance on non-vocal communication is a reminder that there are many different ways that animals can communicate, and vocalization is just one of them.

Pelicans are impressive flyers, and they are well adapted for long-distance migration.

Pelicans are capable of reaching flight speeds up to 35 mph. This allows them to cover large distances in search of food and during migration periods. Their large wings and aerodynamic bodies help them to maintain these speeds over extended periods.

Pelicans have been known to reach altitudes of up to about 10,000 feet while flying. This is especially common during migrations, when they often take advantage of thermals columns of warm, rising air to gain altitude without expending too much energy.

Using thermals allows pelicans to glide for long distances, barely needing to flap their wings, which saves a tremendous amount of energy during long flights. Once they reach a high altitude on a thermal, they can glide downward in the direction they want to go, often for many kilometers, before finding another thermal and rising again.

These adaptations for flight, coupled with their large wingspan and light skeleton, make pelicans exceptionally efficient and effective flyers, capable of traveling long distances in search of food or during migration.

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