Yes, It Can!

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full-screen image.

Tonight’s post reminds me of a limerick by the American poet, Dixon Lanier Merritt, written in 1910:

A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His bill can hold more than his belican.
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

Brown Pelicans are among the more commonly seen birds along the California Coast.  I photographed this group just at dawn the other morning, as they performed their morning grooming.

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They are extraordinary birds.  They are big, with wingspans of 6 1/2 feet (a cousin, the White Pelican, is even larger).  They are ungainly on the ground but they are extraordinary fliers.  They sail along, effortlessly, frequently in an echelon of several birds.  They dive for their food — invariably fish — and their dives are typically vertical.  It’s not unusual to see several birds in a group diving simultaneously into the water from an altitude of forty or fifty feet.

Adult Brown Pelicans, like the ones shown above,  have white heads and necks during the non-breeding season extending from August through December.  During the breeding season their head and neck plumage changes to shades of red, white, yellow, and deep brown.  Juveniles, by contrast, have tan heads and necks.  The individual depicted below is a juvenile.

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Get a load of its gigantic webbed feet.  Brown Pelicans are strong swimmers in addition to being superb fliers.

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We certainly don’t think of these birds as a desert species.  They’re evolved to live in the ocean and on the shoreline.  But, bizarrely, Brown Pelicans sometimes turn up in Tucson.  Tucson is not that far, as the Pelican flies, from the Gulf of California and the Pacific Coast.  In winter, Pacific storms accompanied by fairly strong winds sometimes blow through our area.  It’s not unheard of for Pelicans to be swept inland by these storms and to show up in Tucson.  For years the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum had a Pelican in its collection, a bird that was blown inland and rescued.

Now, comes the question of the day.  Can a Pelican’s beak really hold more than its belly can?  Yes!  The bird’s beak is attached to an extremely expandable pouch in its neck.  The beak/pouch can hold up to three gallons.  The Pelican’s stomach is capable of holding up to a gallon of food.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 70-200mm f4L IS zoom, ISO 320, Aperture preferred setting.  All images shot at f7.1, the first @ 1/500, t

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