A wondrous bird

I just happened to look up while outside this afternoon and spied a most unusual sight; three beautiful, broad-winged American White Pelicans wheeling in a wide circle about 300 feet above me silhouetted against a brilliant blue afternoon sky. They were sharing airspace with a large hawk whose wingspan was about equal to one pelican wing though I’m not sure that counts as an official avian measurement. We have flocks of Brown Pelicans cruising up and down the California coast, skimming waves, and diving like darts into the sea for their dinner, but don’t often see the white species which sadly, is in decline because of pesticides and the loss of wetlands. The white birds are more buoyant than their brown brethren and instead of diving for their food, work in groups to surround fish in shallow coastal or lagoon waters and scoop them up in their enormous bill pouches. This of course always brings to mind the marvelous limerick by Dixon Lanier Merritt who in 1910 penned of the pelican: “Oh, a wonderful bird is the pelican! His bill will hold more than his belican. He can take in his beak, food enough for a week, though I’m damned if I know how the helican.”

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