In my book ‘Emily’ I have encompassed many messages of love, and this includes the love and appreciation of the natural environment, including the wonders and the beauty all that entails. The wildlife that depends on the health of the environment, the flora and fauna that rely on each other, and the balance of all this and how important this is to all our futures. It is about love.
The first post is all about the quirky, Australian Pelican, or as us Aussie endearingly call them, ‘Peli’s’…
Pelicans are a majestic bird found on every continent except Antarctica. There are eight different species of pelicans in total. The pelican commonly found in and around Australia is the Australian Pelican. They have black and white feathers on their back, tail and wings.
- Males are generally larger than the females and can weigh up to 10 kilograms.
- Have bluish/grey webbed feet.
- They are the largest pelican in the world.
- Australia’s largest flying bird.
- Their lifespan in the wild is ten to thirty years.
- Pelicans are communal birds that dwell together in large groups by bodies of water. Groups of pelicans are called pods, scoops or squadrons. They like to rest and nest together. They will travel long distances to find where all their needs can be met: clean water, food, resting and nesting spots.
- At night they like to go back to sleep at their favourite spots.
The pelican habitat is anywhere there is clean water, such as; sheltered bays and beaches, lakes and lagoons close to the sea and coastal swamps and rivers.
The average wingspan of the pelican is 2.3 to 2.5 metres, at times reaching up to 3.4 metres. The pelican can fly to a height of 3,000 metres, and using thermals, it can reach speeds of up to 56 kilometres an hour. They cannot endure long flights of flapping, so they fly from one thermal to another, with less effort for sometimes over 20 hrs.
Though they are considered heavy birds they have air sacs in their bones and under their skin, that contribute to their buoyancy. The air sacs also improve their aerodynamics, by using these air sacs they can stiffen their wings and feathers, which make them more streamline.
The Central Coast of New South Wales in Australia is a popular hangout place for Pelicans.
The Entrance is now been internationally recognised as, “The Pelican Capital of Australia”. Why is this so?
It started over 25 years ago, when the ‘Fish and Chip’ shop across the road from the waterfront, fed the pelicans with their fish scraps and unsold fish; they did this every day at 3.30 pm. One day the owners of the shop didn’t give them attention … and these very resourceful ‘peli’s’ decided one by one to jump out of the water, cross the road and head straight to the fish shop, demanding their handouts.
I (Margaret) remember seeing the ‘Pelican Feeding’ when I was a child and I am glad that this ritual still continues through the generations. It is such a sight, these beautiful wild birds are real characters, they just love to be given fish left overs and put on an act for everyone to enjoy.
So today, we can enjoy these Pelicans 365 days a year at 3.30 pm, putting on a show as they get fed with love. In 1996, The Entrance Town Centre Management built the feeding platform for these pelicans known as, ‘Pelican Plaza’, and this is now sponsored by local businesses within and around the Central Coast. The attraction has also become a very important project not just to entertain and educate residents and visitors alike, but it has become a checking point for any injured Pelican.
Nearly every week they have rescued a pelican with a fishhook or from fishing line entangled somewhere on the pelicans body, or a boating accident. On the weekend we attended the ‘Pelican Feeding’ with other friends and the commentator shared about a pelican that someone brutally injured; its pouch was cut and other parts of it’s body was injured. It was taken into the vet and has now been released back into the wild and healthy once again.
Are they dangerous?
No, they will not chase or hurt anyone, or want to attack. Sometimes you can even pat them, they will quickly let you know if they don’t want you to touch them, and they will either;
- Turn around walk away or fly away,
- Make their bird sound and do the yawn and stretch with a scorchy noise, to let you know, and
- If you persist the Pelican can use its hook at the end of their beak to hurt.
Are they playful?
Yes, pelicans are often playful and curious animals. They have been seen playing with things like plastic bottles, throwing them up in the air and catching them and doing that over and over; they have also done this with seaweed. Sometimes they have trashed the bins to find a suitable play toy.
Australia pelicans mainly eat fish but they can eat turtles, crustaceans and tadpoles. They have even been seen drowning and eating seagulls when in dire need or stealing other birds’ catches.
Australian pelicans like to hunt fish in groups. They flap their wings against the water and glide skimming the surface in order to scare the fish to shallower water where they can catch them easily. Pelicans can also sense their prey moving below the surface of murky water using their sensitive bill. When eating a fish the pelican will manoeuvre it to go down its throat, headfirst so that the spikes of the fins do not damage its throat.
The bill can be up to 40 to 50 cm long and it is recorded to be the biggest of all bird bills in the world
Pelicans are known for their long bills, being forty to fifty centimetres long, but even more so for their large bill pouch. The pouch is used for many things; it can hold up to thirteen litres of water and is good for scooping up fish. When they scoop up the fish they also collect water in their pouch. To resolve this, the pelican puts its head down on its breast to cause the water to flow out leaving the fish. Pelicans can also use the pouch to cool themselves by swinging it from side to side.
When the female pelican is ready to conceive her bill turns reddish pink in colour, so the male can see her, as to spark an interest.
Breeding and Nesting
They breed from the ages of 2 or 3 years, depending where they like to hang out, for example:
- Winter – tropical areas
- Spring – South / East Australia
- Anytime – After big rainfall inland areas
The pelicans nest is made out of feathers, leaves and sticks. One to three eggs are laid and both the parents share the job of incubating the eggs. After 32 -35 days the eggs hatch.
While in the egg the pelican chick communicates with its mother, by messaging to the mother if it is feeling to hot or cold. This communication before hatching is mastered and the unborn learns to take commands from its mother, forming a close bond, this then enables the new born chick to identify its parents.
The first chick is the biggest due to the fact that it receives most of the food and on some accounts even attacks or kills the other chicks in the nest.
When the chick is hatched it has a large bill, bulging eyes and its skin is in the appearance of bubble wrap due to the air pockets under the skin. The baby’s faces are spotted and their eyes are any shade from white to dark brown. Through these variations the parents can tell their own chicks from the hundreds of others. After about a month the chicks are old enough to vacate their nests. Creches are formed of about 100 young pelicans, where they learn to fly and survive; after two months of this they are independent.
Roosting on the rock platforms, jetties, sandbanks, swimming in lagoons, bays, estuaries and watch out, telegraph poles!
Written by Margaret and Sam – Wildlife Warriors, Carers and Lovers of Nature…
Margaret’s book ‘Emily’, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Angus and Robertson, and other online stores