photo by David Cloud
The pelican is another one of God’s amazing creatures. It is a large waterfowl that comes in seven or eight varieties. It has webbed feet, large wings, a long bill, and a bag of skin below its beak called a gular pouch. It varies in size from about six pounds to 30. Its skeleton weighs less than 10% of its body weight. Pelicans live in every continent except Antarctica and build their nests in colonies. The brown pelican fishes by plunge-diving headfirst into the water. It’s sharp eyes can see the fish from 60-70 feet in the air, in spite of the glare of the water, and it has the amazing ability to time its plunge and judge its angle perfectly to capture prey.
It has air sacs under the skin to cushion the impact and help it swim back to the surface. The most distinctive feature is its pouch. It can hold about three gallons of water and the bird uses it as a net to catch fish. After scooping up its prey, it contracts the pouch to empty the water, then jerks its head back to slide the prey down its throat. A hook at the end of its upper bill helps it grip slippery food.
The pelican’s bill is sensitive and helps the bird locate fish in murky water. The opening and closing of the pouch is controlled by a complex set of tongue muscles. By contracting and relaxing the muscles, the bird can flutter its pouch at a rate of 200 times a minute as a cooling mechanism. The pelican sleeps by turning its head backwards and laying its long beak on its back. During courtship the pelican’s bill and pouch becomes multi-colored, part bright salmon pink, part yellow, part cobalt blue, with a black diagonal strip appearing from base to tip of the bill. The eggs are incubated on the parents’ feet, and the unborn chicks communicate with their mothers as to whether they are too hot or cold.
(Friday Church News Notes, January 18, 2013, www.wayoflife.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-295-4143)