Pelican Time Out

Reminder: Planting Party tomorrow 9 am, parking circle end of Spinnaker Way. Details.

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis)

I usually see Brown Pelicans in flight or at work foraging on the water. I was surprised to see a pair of them on the breakwater off the west side of the park, where I usually see nothing but cormorants and gulls. Soon two became four and then six. They were all busy with the important chore of preening and stretching. I haven’t seen them doing that before. The high point for me was seeing these big birds stretch their necks high and open their bills wide, as if to get some sun on their gular pouches. It looked for a moment like a big Calla Lily. In this view, the pouch looks transparent, with what may be a network of veins running through it. The upper mandible is surprisingly slender. Their bill is really a big stretchy basket with a narrow lid to shut it.

With a bill that long, these birds aren’t able to preen anything above their collar, where neck meets body. They might theoretically preen one another, like crows and some other birds sometimes do, but I didn’t see that happen. Even though they literally bumped elbows, each bird attended only to its own feathers. Scratching with one foot was the only way to get at irritations on the neck.

Pelicans have uropygial glands like most birds. In the opening few seconds of the video, it looks like the pelican is rubbing its head and neck on its uropygial gland. That is the only way it can get the gland oil on that part of its body. Keeping its feathers water-resistant and in good condition is of prime importance for a bird like the pelican that spends so much time afloat and may get its whole body wet during plunge-dive maneuvers.

A number of Double-crested Cormorants perched close to and around the pelicans, also preening. The two species paid no attention to one another. Some moonlit night I will have to check whether pelicans roost on this breakwater at night. They don’t sleep on the water. Between pelicans and cormorants and gulls that breakwater could be a jammed dormitory.

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis)

Burrowing Owl Update

The owl this morning remained in the same perch as yesterday. Nothing eventful happened as I was watching. It appeared sleepy and moved its head slowly.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Nov. 198 2022

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2 thoughts on “Pelican Time Out

  • ” it looks like the pelican is rubbing its head and neck on its uropygial gland. That is the only way it can get the gland oil on that part of its body. ”

    It is also using its head (laden with that oil) to transfer (rub) the oil on to a part of its wings that it can’t reach with the tip of its bill.

    And, near the end of the video (49-52 secs), an immature individual (4th individual from right) can be seen taking oil from the gland and then preening (briefly) parts of wing that the bill tip can reach.

  • RE: “Pelican Time Out” (and others) – but this one what lovely text. And great video. Thank you for paying such good attention to all this and sharing it.

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