Pelican (family Pelecanidae)

While talking sports the other day, somehow the New Orleans Pelicans came up. For those of you who don’t follow sports, the Pelicans are a team that recently changed its name from the Hornets, because pelicans are the state bird of Louisiana. But the name pelican doesn’t exactly strike any sort of fear in the hearts of opponents, so why they didn’t change it to something more fierce I’ll never know. In any case, I think the Pelicans now have the stupidest name in professional sports, and the conversation inspired a blog post.

Pelicans are in the family Pelecanidae, and live in pretty much everywhere expect for the South American inland and at the north and south polar regions. As piscivores (fish eaters), pelicans stay near water, though they don’t really like the ocean, preferring inland and coastal areas.

Eight pelican species currently exist, and they are loosely classified into two groups, based on colour and nesting habits. White coloured pelicans nest on the ground, and dark pelicans (either brown or grey) nest in trees or rocks. Why this is, I have no idea.

A pelican looking pretty dumb with its mouth full of fish.

A pelican looking pretty dumb with its mouth full of fish.

One thing I do know about pelicans is that they are pretty silly looking birds. They have giant bills with a funny pouch that can hold lots of fish. Unfortunately a mouth crammed with fish is a tempting target for other species. Some birds will peck at a pelican as it is feeding so it can steal food from the pouch. In the Galapagos, penguins follow pelicans as they feed, because little fish escape the pelican’s bill and are easy picking for the penguins. Sometimes things get nasty, and the penguins go right into the pelican’s mouth and steal its fishes. It seems like a pretty rough deal for the pelicans. In addition to feeding, pelicans use their pouch for thermoregulation. When pelicans get too hot, they ripple the pouch, which allows for evaporation and lets the birds cool down.

Like many seabirds, pelicans nest together in large colonies. Different species of pelicans have different courtship methods; ground nesting pelican courtship generally involves a group of males chasing a female around while they show their bills off to each other. I would really, really, not want to be that female pelican. Tree nesting birds are much more easy going, and courtship just involves males sitting in a tree trying to get a girl to like. Seems like the tree nesting pelicans have the better idea.

A pelican chick gobbles food from its parents pouch.

A pelican chick gobbles food from its parents pouch.

Pelicans lay two to six eggs, and the chicks hatch after 30 days. In almost every case every chick but one dies, because the siblings are so competitive. Parents feed their young by regurgitating into their mouths, until the babies are old enough to help themselves to food from their parent’s pouch. One strange thing baby pelicans do sometimes have a seizure after being fed. No one knows why this is, and it really doesn’t seem like much of a functional behaviour. At 10 weeks old the chicks fledge, and start their adult lives, maturing at three to four years.

Overall, pelicans are neat birds, although I still don’t think they are worthy of being the name of a sports team. But regardless, I’m glad I got to blog about them.

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