It's Never a
Into Empty Ocean
Brown pelicans do not recklessly dive for their catch, depending on
luck. They rely on larger fish that are feeding deeper, out of sight,
to spook small fish to the surface upon which the pelican's
prey. A diving pelican plummets like a hard-flung spear.
It is a deadly missile that rarely misses.
A bird usually begins its dive from about 20 or 30 feet but it can be as high as 65 feet.
It partly closes its wings and curves its neck to draw
its head back toward its shoulders. Just prior to hitting the water,
the pelican goes through a number of quick contortions
that are almost to quick for the eye to catch.
It folds back its wings and turns its body so it is actually upside down
and at about a 70-degree angle as it enters the water. A split-second
before striking the surface, the bird also extends
its neck so the bill and its pouch are also upside
Impact automatically opens the pelican's elastic pouch completely,
filling it with water and (hopefully) fish. When a brown pelican pops
back to the surface, the first thing it does is sit with its
bill lowered so the water can drain out.
The pouch is not normally used for storing food since, once the
water is eliminated, the bird raises its bill and gulps
down the fish.
However, the pouch is an excellent scoop when schools of bait fish
are plentiful and the pelican can skim them off the
Years of hurling themselves into the water does not normally cause a
pelican to lose its sight. That is only a myth. Blindness is usually caused by infection or injury from a fishing.
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