“A wonderful bird is the pelican, His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak
Enough food for a week.
I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”
That famous bill has some interesting characteristics. It allows for catching and storing fish and is sufficiently sensitive that the birds can locate fish at night by touch. The bill allows water to be drained before the fish is swallowed. According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pelicans exercise the pouch to maintain elasticity. And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.
Pelican "Poucher-cize" by Eileen Sullivan
The next photo, taken by Jack Chiles, shows one of the American White Pelicans seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge this week during the bird census. Jack notes that the bird is showing the horny knob on the upper mandible displayed by both sexes during the breeding season. These knobs are believed to be a target for other adults when they arrive at the communal breeding grounds and fight for territories, Once eggs are laid, the knobs fall off.
Another interesting aspect of the American White Pelican is their coordinated fishing. They can be seen swimming in one or more lines, “herding” fish into the shallows for an easy catch. Most often found in fresh water, they eat primarily fish and crayfish.
These magnificent birds will be passing through HNWR during the next few weeks on their way to their breeding grounds. Be sure to visit the Refuge this spring to see the American White Pelican!