Want to find out a little more about this charismatic sea bird? Take a look at these interesting facts about Pelicans and increase your chances of being crowned the next pub quiz champion!
Pelicans have been around for a long time. In fact, researchers have found fossil evidence in France of pelicans dating as far as 30 million years. The identified bird had a beak which looks very much like the pelicans we know today.
They are found on all the continents on earth except Antarctica. They primarily inhabit warmer regions.
Types of pelicans
There’s a total of eight different species of pelican alive today: The American white pelican, Brown pelican, Peruvian pelican, Great white pelican, Australian pelican, Pink-backed pelican, Dalmatian pelican, and the Spot-billed pelican
Floating on water
You’re probably wondering how such a big bird manages to stay afloat on water, apart from paddling furiously! It turns out they have air pockets in the skeleton and beneath the skin. This enables pelicans to float high in water.
Pelicans technically have nasal openings but the nostrils are sealed off and hidden beneath the beak’s horny sheath. The hidden nostrils house special glands which remove excess salt from the bird’s blood stream. This is a lifesaver as pelicans ingest seawater to survive. Because of this, they breathe mainly through the mouth.
They don’t live on fish alone
Pelicans do of course feed mainly on fish which they catch near the waters surface in inland and coastal waters. However, their diet is a lot more varied and interesting as they also eat turtles, insects, crustaceans, birds, mammals and amphibians.
Do you ever wonder about what happens after this life? Or, how safe the journey to the other side will be? Well, pelicans might be able to help – at least according to what the ancient Egyptians believed. Pelicans apparently possessed the ability to prophesy safe passage to the afterlife. I wonder if one had the option to cancel the trip if the passage was deemed to be unsafe? Just a thought.
In Ancient Egypt pelicans were associated with death and the afterlife. It was depicted in art on the walls of tombs, and figured in funerary texts as a protective symbol against snakes.
Myth of the Australian pelican
There is a legend about how the Australian pelican acquired its black and white plumage. Apparently it rescued some humans from a flood. The pelican fell in love with one of them but was betrayed when the girl and her friends ran away. A heartbroken pelican sought revenge. He disguised his black plumage using a white camouflage. Tragically, he was killed by another pelican before accomplishing his mission.
Pelicans are social birds
Pelicans are not like eagles which fly alone. They are gregarious birds and travel in flocks. They hunt together and also breed in colonies.
The bills, pouches and bare facial skin of all species become brightly coloured before the breeding season. The American white pelican develops a knob on its beak before the breeding season. This happens to both the male and the female. Apparently this is a sign of the bird’s sexual maturity. The knob falls off and reappears during the next breeding season.
The throat pouch of the Californian sub species of the brown pelican turns bright red and fades to yellow after the eggs are laid.
The brown pelican nests on the ground when no suitable trees are available.
Tiny but strong tongue
Pelicans have a very tiny tongue. This enables it to swallow large fish. When they open their mouth they inflate an air sac to display their tongue.
The pelican has flexible tongue muscles. This enables it to form the pouch into a basket for catching fish or rain water.
Pelicans are the heaviest of flying birds. They have an unusually high number of secondary flight feathers (long stiff asymmetrically shaped but symmetrically paired pennaceous feathers on the wings or tail of a bird) – 30 to 35 to be precise.
Males are generally larger than females and have longer bills.
The smallest species is the brown pelican weighing around 2.75 kg (6.1 lbs) and 1.06 m (3.5 ft) long with a wingspan of as little as 1.83 m (6 ft) wide.
The largest is believed to be the Dalmatian weighing up to 15kg (33 lb), 1.83m (6 ft) in length and with a wingspan of 3m (9.8 ft).
The Australian pelican’s bill can grow up to 0.5m (1.6 ft) in large males, the largest of any bird.
Pelican on the menu
Fancy pelican for dinner? Yes you can, but not if you observe Jewish laws. The pelican is considered unkosher and therefore forbidden in Jewish dietary law.
Do you know any interesting or fun facts about pelicans that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!