Since we're talking about seabirds these days, let's give some time to one of California's most fascinating ones -- the Brown Pelican. Ah, but where to begin? The crazy dives into the water? That beak? There are so many cool things about this bird that we just threw them into a list. Please add any that you think we've left out.
1. Brown Pelicans make their spectacular dives into the water from as high as 65 feet.
2. If humans dove into the water at such a height over and over, we’d probably hurt ourselves. But pelicans have adapted to protect themselves. They have special air sacs beneath their skin that they inflate just before impact to protect internal organs. And as they dive, they rotate to the left, to avoid injuring their trachea and esophagus, which run along the right side of their neck.
3. There are a number of collective nouns for pelicans, but our favorites are: "brief,” "pod," "pouch," "scoop," “squadron,” and “rookery.”
4. The oldest known Brown Pelican lived 43 years.
5. There’s that poem by Dixon Lanier Merritt:
Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican,
His bill can hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak,
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.
6. The poem is actually right – a Brown Pelican’s pouch near its bill will indeed hold more than its belly. The pouch will hold up to three gallons of water, with the stomach will hold about one gallon.
7. Pelicans have learned that they can get a better aim at fish under water if they dive at a steep angle, between 60 and 90 degrees, which reduces water refraction.
8. The Brown Pelican is the state bird of Louisiana.
9. While the Brown Pelican is awkward on land, to say the least, it is a beautiful and intelligent flyer. Often, a group of pelicans will fly in a V-formation, which is probably where the collective noun "squadron" came from. They are also known to fly low over the water, taking advantage of what is called slope lift, light upward breezes reflected from the tops of waves. Plus, it looks cool when they do this.
10. If the Brown Pelican looks a little prehistoric, it is because the basic features of all pelicans have changed very little in the last 30-40 million years.
11. Adult Brown Pelicans incubate their eggs with their webbed feet.
12. Gulls will often try to steal fish from the Brown Pelican’s pouch as it drains the water out.
13. While Brown Pelicans will crash dive into the water for fish, the only other North American pelican -- the American White Pelican will simply dive for fish from the surface.
14. The Brown Pelican nearly disappeared from North America in the 1960s and 1970s due to DDT, but has made an impressive comeback in recent years.
15. Male attracts a female by selecting a nest site and enticing her to build a nest together.