His beak can hold more than his belly can

His beak can hold more than his belly can

There is something whimsical about the Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) which derives its Latin name from the verb conspicere, which means ‘to perceive’.  With its over-sized features – big wings, large beak and feet – it would appear like it should be off balance. But the pelican is anything but that. They are graceful and seemingly move effortlessly in the sky.

In Australia there is somewhere upwards of 300,000 pelicans and usually they hang in rather large colonies. Not here at Tahbilk. For many years we have tried to find some continuity and pattern around when our small numbers of pelican’s arrive and when they leave. But alas, no pattern can be found. This is, from what we know, not an unfamiliar experience with Pelicans. Tending to prefer to follow their belly rather than stick to a regular regime.

It’s no surprises then to hear they enjoy spending some time homing at the Tahbilk wetlands filled with an abundance of food. If you didn’t know, pelicans are carnivorous and so they get their fill of fish when they are here. Interestingly they locate fish using their bill which can sense movement in the water around them. They scoop up the water like a net holding at least 13L (imagine 13L of milk!) collecting any prey that is inside. Cleverly they empty the water and swallow the prey.

If pelicans are to migrate, which they do often, they can last in the air for about 24 hours. It is amazing they can actually keep themselves up in the air or afloat tipping the scales between 4 – 6.5kg. Their light weight skeleton (1/10th of their body weight) combined with an array of air sacs in prime locations such as under the throat and wings give them extra buoyancy.

We’re talking about the pelican today in relation to ‘World Migratory Bird Day’ on the second Saturday in May every year. The message on this day is about raising awareness of bird conservation because bird migration is often a global issue.

Our humble Australian Pelicans would struggle to migrate too far away with their 24 hour in the air policy. But you will find them reach as far as Papua New Guinea and western Indonesia; very rarely they make it to New Zealand and the western Pacific Islands.

Even so, it is important to stop for a moment and consider how we can help maintain multiple habitats around the world to help conserve birds. Why would we do this? Well it is simple, birds move around for a reason (food or breeding) and are a great indicator of forest health. In fact we use our bird sightings and counting in our Tahbilk re-vegetation plots to tell us a lot about the health of the plantings.

So today we hats off to the humble pelican and think a little more about how we can create a better environment for our birds to live in.

To take a glimpse of all of our bird life in the Tahbilk Wetlands & Wildlife Reserve take a look at our Pinterest page: HERE

 

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