During our recent trip to New Orleans, we took a day trip to Grand Isle on the Southern tip of Louisiana to observe the birdlife in this region. A flock of pelicans were feeding close to the pier and the gal pictured above caught my attention. I watched her dive for food and emerge with “something” that looked difficult to swallow. After a bit of a thrashing to drain excess water from her pouch, she flew to the pier and landed close to where I was standing. I watched her extend her neck and swallow repeatedly. The “meal” slowly slid down her throat coming to rest at the base of her neck. I wondered if she would indeed be able to digest the large catch. When I left the area the meal in her throat had not moved further and protruded like a large tumor on the side of her neck.
Pelicans are fascinating creatures and one of my favorite birds to observe. From high in the air, I have watched them pinpoint a catch and dive into the water like a precision arrow shot from a bow. Rarely do they miss an opportunity to capture their prey. Despite a heavy body, pelicans can soar at 10,000 feet and remain buoyant in water, thanks to the air sacs in their bones. Despite popular belief, pelicans do not store fish in their pouch. Instead, they use the pouch to “house” the catch just long enough to drain the water, tip the head and swallow. This gal worked hard for her food and didn’t seem in any distress when I left the pier. Pelicans are designed to eat whole fish and that fact alone amazes me. Still, I marvel how such a feat is possible, that a large fish can move through what appears to be a much smaller pipe. Nature has designed this bird with just the right capabilities to survive and it is wonderful to observe.