A Word from Nancy - June 2022 - Brown Pelican (español: Pelicano Pardo)

Brown Pelican Wash. state

What does she carry in that pouch?

"Life truly is a journey,
and the less baggage we carry,
the easier the ride.”
― Wally Amos

I once had the thrill of standing on a dock right next to a Pelican floating in the water. Its pouch was full of water and fish, and I was able to watch as it squeezed the water out. The downside was a horrific odor - I’d never really thought about the disadvantages of carrying one’s non-refrigerated organic dinner.

We humans may not lug around uneaten raw food, but we sometimes do carry some pretty stinky things with us on our life’s journey. Some of our memories and beliefs were added by others, others we put in our pouch ourselves. Regardless of how my “stuff” got into my head and heart, it is always my choice what I choose to hang on to. What are you carrying that might be good to set aside?


This month’s photo (above) was taken last September at Westport, on the coast of Washington state. 





Here’s another image of the same species - taken on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica:

Brown Pelican in Costa Rica

Brown Pelican in Costa Rica

Brown Pelicans are marine birds; it is a glorious sight to see them flapping and gliding in unison, in either a “V” or a straight line, low above the water. Some migrate long distances, while others live year-round along both the east and west coasts of North, Central and South America (here's a map). It is unlikely, but at least theoretically possible, that my two photos are of the same bird.

The current abundance of this species represents a success story for conservationists, who succeeded in halting the use of DDT and other persistent pesticides; as recently as the early 1970s, the Brown Pelican was seriously endangered (Audubon). And here’s a micro-factoid: it is the national bird of Saint KItts and Nevis, the smallest sovereign state in the western hemisphere. Nevis was the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, whose biography by Ron Chernow I am reading before heading to the musical later this summer.

They are primarily fish eaters, and one of only two pelican species that dive headfirst into the water, from as high as 65 feet. They tuck and twist to the left to protect their trachea and esophagus from the impact (All About Birds) As the bird plunges into the water, its throat pouch expands to trap the fish, filling with up to 2.6 gallons of water. It surfaces with fish in its pouch, then tilts the bill down to drain water and tosses its head back to swallow the fish. This is not my video, but is a great capture of a Brown Pelican diving for fish.

Young pelicans are fed by both parents, who regurgitate partially digested fish for them to eat. I’ve read that the young stick their head into the parent’s mouth to eat, and also that the “fish soup” is dumped out into the nest for them to enjoy. Regardless of the location of the meal, suffice it to say I’m glad I’m not a pelican on either end of this meal system. At one time it was thought that live fish in water was carried in the pouch to the young, but there is no evidence to support this theory (other than my memory of seeing it in Saturday morning cartoons).

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