Pelican

Clive

Joined June 2008

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PELICAN
Pelecanus conspicillatus
Description
There are seven species of pelicans in the world, all of which are similar in shape and, with one exception, are primarily white in colour. Males are larger than females. The most characteristic feature of pelicans is the elongated bill with its massive throat pouch. The bill is 40 – 50 cm long and is larger in males than females.
Pelicans weigh 4.0 – 6.8 kg, are 1.6 – 1.8 m long. Pelicans have large wings and a wingspan of 2.3 – 2.5 m. They have an extremely light skeleton, weighing less than 10% of their total body weight.
Feeding
The bill and pouch of pelicans play an important role in feeding. The bill is sensitive and this helps locate fish in murky water. It also has a hook at the end of the upper mandible, probably for gripping slippery food items. When food is caught, the pelican manipulates it in its bill until the prey typically has its head pointing down the pelican’s throat. Then with a jerk of the head the pelican swallows the prey.
The pouch does not function as a place to hold food for any length of time. Instead it serves as a short-term collecting organ. Pelicans plunge their bills into the water, using their pouches as nets. Once something is caught, a pelican draws its pouch to its breast. This empties the water and allows the bird to manoeuvre the prey into a swallowing position. The pouch can also serve as a net to catch food thrown by humans, and there are sightings of pelicans drinking by opening their bill to collect rainwater.
The bill is delicately built. The lower jaw consists of two thin and weakly articulated bones from which the pouch hangs. When fully extended, the bill can hold up to 13 litres.
Movements
Pelicans are highly mobile, searching out suitable areas of water and an adequate supply of food. Pelicans are not capable of sustained flapping flight, but can remain in the air for 24 hours, covering hundreds of kilometres. They are excellent soarers and can use thermals to rise to considerable altitudes. Flight at 1,000m is common, and heights of 3 000 m have been recorded. By moving from one thermal to the next, pelicans can travel long distances with a minimum of effort, reaching air speeds of up to 56 km/hour.
Nesting
The nest consists of a scrape in the ground prepared by the female. She digs the scrape with her bill and feet, and lines it with any scraps of vegetation or feathers within reach of the nest. Within three days egg-laying begins and between one and three eggs are laid two to three days apart. The eggs are incubated on the parents’ feet.
Both parents share incubation which lasts between 32 and 35 days. The first-hatched chick is substantially larger than its siblings. It receives most of the food and may even attack and kill its nest mates. A newly hatched pelican has a large bill, bulging eyes and skin that looks like small-grained bubble plastic. The skin around the face is mottled with varying degrees of black and the colour of the eyes varies from white to dark brown. This individual variation helps the parents to recognise their chick from hundreds of others.

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Artwork Comments

  • LynEvans
  • Clive
  • eclectica
  • Clive
  • Oncemore
  • Clive
  • Squealia
  • Clive
  • Angela Lance
  • Clive
  • Evita
  • Clive
  • Cheri Bouvier-Johnson
  • Clive
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