A social bird with a handy pouch
Pelicans are one of the most distinctive looking sea birds in the world, due to the large pouch that hangs beneath their beaks. Their pouches and beaks become more brightly colored just before and during mating season (a lot like the puffin).
The pelican is a very social bird and lives in groups with other pelicans. They can often be found flying together in a line, or swimming together in u-shape to “herd” fish into waters where they are easier to catch. They breed in groups called colonies, usually on islands close by coasts all over the world.
Many cartoons and movies depict pelicans as birds that store fish in their pouch to eat later, but that is not really how pelicans use their pouches (called a gular). They use their pouch to scoop up fish directly from the water, then they allow the water to drain before they swallow their meal (which can be as many as three buckets of fish!) whole.
Pelicans are very strong swimmers and flyers. They are able to waterproof their feathers from preen glands. They rub their heads on these glands, which produce an oily substance that they then spread on their feathers to keep them dry.
Males and females stay together for one mating season at a time. The male pelican helps to build the nest by carrying straw, grass and sticks in his beak, and the female arranges the material into a nest. The female usually lays just two eggs, and both males and females take turns keeping the eggs warm by resting them on their feet. Once hatched, the babies will feed from regurgitated food in the gular, but they start caring for themselves more around 10-12 weeks old.
- Pelicans can fly at heights of up to 3,000 feet.
- Pelicans are giant birds, with wingspans of up to 12 feet.
- Pelicans live on every continent except Antarctica.
- Pelicans always live near water.
- Pelicans have short legs, so they can often look “clumsy” on land, but in fact are graceful swimmers once in the water.
- They are social creatures and often hunt in groups, working together to drive fish into shallow water.