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November 3rd 2010    Tim Candler

    The oldest recorded Brown Pelican was forty three years old when he died.  They catch fish primarily by what ornithologists dub “surface plunging”.  A most charming description of an aerial maneuver that might otherwise be described as “without dignity.”

     More confusing, is once a Brown Pelican has “surface plunged” and is back bobbing about on moving water, how to tell whether a Brown Pelican has caught anything.   Fortunately there are ne’er-do-wells assigned to determine these sorts of things and this is my reading of their dubious findings.

     A Brown Pelican spots prey from sometimes sixty feet in the air.  He then dives head first into the water.  If he is unsuccessful he raises his head with bill open to allow the water to drain out quickly.  If he is successful he raises his head more slowly with his bill pressed against his chest to allow the water to drain out more slowly, and then he swallows his food with a gallant toss of his head.

    

     As well, the Brown Pelican, while he can see under-water, he cannot see with accuracy because his eye does not contain a capacity to compensate for refraction of water.  Once submerged all he can do is close his beak and hope.  But I imagine he quite quickly is able to discern whether there is something alive scrambling about in his mouth, and the moment of swallowing must be a disconcerting one for him because he can never be certain what it is that his beak contains.

    By the age of about twenty five a Brown Pelican must have many a tale to tell about this or that unfortunate feeding experience, but probably it is the memory of his first catch that puts that smile in his eye.

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