Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Last word on St. T. fauna (maybe)
Pelicans. You may think you know about them till you've had hours to watch them -- in the water, in the air, always in action.
Seeing brown pelicans dive into the water after fish, you may wonder how the species has survived. It can seem as if each bird will break its neck after speeding straight down into what looks like shallow water. But obviously, it's (usually) not too shallow because the diving bird quickly bobs up again.
Straight from the National Geographic website, here's some basic info on pelicans. Those on St. Thomas were brown pelicans, the smallest variety and the only ones that dive. (All the better for St. Thomas visitors!)
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“There are more than half a dozen species of pelicans, but all of them have the famous throat pouch for which the birds are best known. These large birds use their elastic pouches to catch fish — though different species use it in different ways.
“Many pelicans fish by swimming in cooperative groups. They may form a line or a "U" shape and drive fish into shallow water by beating their wings on the surface. When fish congregate in the shallows, the pelicans simply scoop them up.
“The brown pelican, on the other hand, dives on fish (usually a type of herring called menhaden) from above and snares them in its bill. Pelicans do not store fish in their pouch, but simply use it to catch them and then tip it back to drain out water and swallow the fish immediately.
“The American white pelican can hold some 3 gallons (11 1/2 liters) of water in its bill. Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents' throats to retrieve food.
“Pelicans are found on many of the world's coastlines and also along lakes and rivers. They are social birds and typically travel in flocks, often strung out in a line. They also breed in groups called colonies, which typically gather on islands.”