Are you a fan of pelicans? Have you ever witnessed a squadron of these wonderful waterbirds soar across the ocean in the later afternoon? Maybe sailing past a dock on a tropical island getaway in Florida's Key Largo, or even New Zealand or the Seychelle islands?
(A pelican about to land, Key Largo. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
Something about their big bills and pouches brings a smile to my face. In the air they can appear as graceful as ballet dancers, while on land, sometimes like look like little wobbly toddlers.
(Hoping for a fish handout. Photo by Island Runaway/Z.A.)
Growing up in coastal Florida, I always took pelicans for granted. In fact, I know very little about them. So, in the interests of researching more Amazing Island Nature, here are five curious facts about this fabulous fowl:
1. There are 8 living pelican species of the genus Pelecanidae, including the American white pelican, the Brown pelican, the Peruvian pelican, the Great White pelican, the Australian pelican, the Pink-baked pelican, the Dalmatian pelican, and the Spot-billed pelican.
(A pelican soars low over the water. Photo by Ingrid Taylor, Flickr.)
2. Their gular pouches scoop up their prey and then will drain out the seawater so that they don't swallow the water.
(Their pouches are beautifully designed. Photo by Bert Knot, Flickr.)
3. Both females and males incubate their eggs (for 30 to 36 days) and both parents take turns feeding their young.
(Australian pelican with its young. Photo by JJ Harrison, Flickr.)
4. In ancient Egypt, the pelican "Henet" was referred to in some texts as a goddess and the mother of the king. Associated with death and the afterlife, pelicans were often depicted on tomb walls. In the Middle Ages, the pelican was often portrayed on heraldy and even in religious illustrations, as a symbol of self-sacrifice.
5. In the modern era, three Caribbean countries claim the pelican as their national bird: Sint Maarten, Barbados, and St. Kitts & Nevis. The pelican is also the state bird of Louisiana. And finally, the Great White pelican is the national bird of Romania!
(Pelicans in formation. Photo by Bert Knot, Flickr.)
So it seems that throughout history and throughout the world, people have recognized this waterbird as a special being. They are certainly one of nature's wonders, and one of the birds that the Island Runaways most love seeing in the islands.
Have you spotted pelicans flying in formation? Are they your favorite waterbird...or is that some other species, such as an egret? Let us know!