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  • Aditya Singh

The Graceful Spot-billed Pelican

Yesterday, from my window, I saw these graceful birds return from their annual migration. There weren’t too many of them. I think this is just the first lot. This time, lets meet the Spot-billed Pelican.

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Arriving from their annual migration…


To me, it is the most graceful flying bird. One has to see the pelican up close to realize how big these birds are. A bird with gigantic wings, their wingspan measures 8 feet! Thats about as big as the tallest humans and this is the smallest of the three pelicans in my land!!! (The smallest of all Pelicans is the Brown Pelican found in the Americas).

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Graceful flyers…


About:

These big birds are mostly white with dark flight feathers. The beak is long with a big pouch and as the name suggests, has small dark spots along its length. It has a hooked yellow-orange tip.

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The adult…


They appear to be wearing golden goggles and their eyes look like red marbles from a distance, they have short duck-like legs. The feet too are webbed. Their crested hind necks appear greyish with a mix of curly and straight “hair”.


The young ones (header photo above) are brown-backed, lack the beak spots and their goggles are not as prominent.


I have not been able to spot any difference between boys and girls.


Behavior:

They are mostly duck-like in their behavior. Just like ducks, they are normally seen floating around in rivers and large lakes. One of the main differences between them is in their flight. Unlike ducks, who fly with their necks fully outstretched, pelicans fly with their necks held back.


They can drink while flying. This is how they do it (clockwise from top left):

Pelican Water Sequence

Collecting water for the young ones…


I once saw a Pelican and a Painted Stork flying together on the same flight path and had a chance to compare their flight. I saw that in the time the pelican flapped once, the painted stork flapped its wings five times! That is effortless flying.


They make their nests on the tops of trees along watersides.  Suitable nesting material can be hard to find.

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Collecting nesting material…


They feed their young ones in a very interesting way. When the parents arrive, the chicks start clamouring for food. Contrary to our expectation, the food is not stored in the pouch. The parent lines up its beak, opens it and allows the chick’s beak to get deep inside and feeds it.



In this process, the chick’s beak can go so deep inside, it almost reaches the parent’s neck! The parents also ensure that all the chicks are well fed by feeding them in turns. They refuse to open their beak if a chick who has had its turn tries again. After mealtime, the parents are off to get more food.


Threats:

Over the years, several colonies are known to have have disappeared.

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Not their favorite perch…


At one place, I saw a flock of pelicans on a high tension wire and pylon. It must have been difficult for them to balance there with their webbed feet not designed for perching. But this is where we pushed these (near threatened) birds.

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