Monday, September 4, 2017

Hodgepodge 310/365 - Pelicans

Courtesy Manfred,
On our coastal walk today, we were treated to many dozens of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), either bathing in the Carmel River, flomping their wings on the water; gliding through the air overhead, on their way to food; circling above the inlet formed by Monastery Beach; or sitting on rocks. I hadn't seen such a number in quite a while. In fact, I don't really remember the last time I noticed a pelican. Today, I took a moment to stand and watch them fly. They do look prehistoric. I love them.

Hereabouts, we have brown pelicans during nonbreeding season, and now and then American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos, the specific name meaning "red-billed") as well.

That caused me to wonder, what is the distribution of brown pelicans, how many species of pelican are there, and what are their closest relatives? Wikipedia to the rescue.

Red: year-round, nonbreeding;
orange: year-round, breeding
First, brown pelicans—the smallest pelican, with a wing span of about 6.5–7.5 feet and weighing 8–10 pounds—are found far and wide along the coasts of North, Central, and northern South America, as well as in the Galápagos. There are five recognized subspecies: ours is P. o. californicus. The brown pelican was listed under the Endangered Species Act from 1970 to 2009, its population having crashed due to DDT. It has since generally recovered. It is the state bird of Louisiana (nicknamed the "Pelican State"), though by 1963 it had become extinct there; it was subsequently successfully reintroduced.

Spot-billed pelican
As for pelicans generally, there are eight species, together making up the family Pelicanidae: the brown, American white (found in inland North America), Peruvian (P. thagus: Pacific coast of South America), great white (P. onocrotalus: eastern Mediterranean east to Malay Peninsula, south to South Africa), Australian (P. conspicillatus: Australia and New Guinea), pink-backed (P. rufescens: Africa, Seychelles, and southwestern Arabia; extinct in Madagascar), Dalmatian (P. crispus: southeastern Europe to India and China—the largest pelican, weighing 22–26 pounds), and spot-billed (P. philippensis: Southern Asia from southern Pakistan across India east to Indonesia; extinct in the Philippines).

The name comes from the Ancient Greek word pelekan (πελεκάν), itself derived from the word pelekys (πέλεκυς), meaning "axe." In classical times, the word was applied to both the pelican and the woodpecker.

And finally, they are most closely related to herons, ibises, and spoonbills, and especially to the hamerkop (a bird we delighted in watching when we were in Botswana) and the shoebill, a bizarre-looking bird.

There. I learned something! I hope you did too.

No comments:

Post a Comment