Plunge-Diving Pelicans & What’s With That Pouch?

My two previous posts presented the Brown Pelicans in flight and in portrait.  The hardest challenge with them has been their sudden  plunge-dives when foraging for food.  Here’s my best shots, albeit not totally in focus.  But, wow, how fun the challenge!

Plunge-diving Brown Pelicans are quite entertaining to watch.  They use their acute eyesight to hunt for schools of small fish from the air at heights as much as 60 feet above the surface.

When food is sighted, the Brown Pelican plunge-dives head first into the water at high speed, tucking and twisting his neck to the left to protect the trachea and esophagus from the impact.

The Brown Pelican’s body is also padded with air sacs just under the surface of the skin that cushion the force of impact when it strikes the water.

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Another dive……

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And another……

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Brown Pelicans consume up to 4 pounds of fish per day.

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As the Brown Pelican plunges into the water, its fleshy throat pouch, called the gular pouch, expands like a net to scoop the fish while also filling with up to 2-3 gallons of water.

Once the gular pouch is full, the Brown Pelican tips his head back, with beak to the sky, allowing the openings at the back of his beak drain the water away, leaving only the captured fish.

The Brown Pelican will then turn the fish in order to swallow them head first to prevent the fins from catching in his throat.

Sometimes they try to steal a meal from others as well.  This poor Cormorant didn’t have a chance when he surfaced with a nice size fish.  The Pelicans were immediately in the water and one successfully stole that fish.  The Cormorant just looked on in disbelief.

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You can see the fish outlined in the Brown Pelican’s pouch.

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Tip up that beak and down it goes!


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Brown Pelicans will perch and watch another ‘take the plunge’.  For sure to see if they themselves have a chance in stealing the meal or snatch up what is missed.

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In the next three-photo series, the Brown Pelican in the water seems to be chanting on the plunging Pelican!  Go!  Go!  Go!   🙂

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In addition to the Brown Pelican’s gular pouch being used as a fish net, it is also an aide in mate attraction as well as a cooling device.  When the Brown Pelican gets too hot, it opens its bill and flutters the sides of its pouch.

A closer look at that gular pouch…..

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When he turned his head, the gular pouch was back-lit for an interesting shot.

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Say, Ahhhhhh……..

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And again……

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I’ve always admired the comical, gawky Brown Pelican from others’ photos or during our short Florida trips in past years.  I enjoyed getting to spend so much time with them these last few weeks, giving me the chance to study them, and learn and share the Brown Pelican with you.


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