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The Amateur Birder's Journal - Stories & Photographs by J R Compton
All Contents © 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. When I get it wrong, unamateur Betsy Baker helps get it
right in gold text © 2008 by Betsy Baker. Four days a week, usually catching up when I miss, but not on weekends.

The Birds of the Rio Grande    The Current Birder's Journal    Index of Pages    Feedback    Map    Bird I.D. Page

Several Strange Things Pelicans
Do with Their Beaks

I keep adding photos as I didscover new things they do with their beaks.

September 12 2008

Masked Marauder - Copyright 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

The Masked Marauder partially covers its face with its beak...

 

December 6 2006

Pelican Beak Wiggle - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Stretches its beak upward
and its throat in an S curve.

Full Pelk Lip Inversion - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Full Pelican Lower Lip Inversion

 

February 2007

Wings Up Heads Down - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Wings Up Heads Down — Like
Esther Williams with Feathered Fans

Probably edited it out, but I asked the Universe yester for an Esther Williams Synchronized Pelican Fishing display. Imagine my startlement when I hove into view at Sunset today, and there they were. Gray day made exposures strange, but I met another photog and we talked about birds and photography — and watched in amazement as pelicans in formation swept their target fish back and forth across the shallows, dipping and gulping and straining. In unison for awhile, then every pelican for itself.

Have more pictures than anything to say for a change, so I'll just let them do my talking. (This is a mix of several shoots, showing a step-by-step but disconcertingly in different directions, as the pelicans fish en mass.

Pouch Ready - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Beaks Angled for Entry

Scooping - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Scooping

Mouths In - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pouches Under

Heads Under - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Heads Under

What Happens - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

What Happens When You Drag Your
Pouch Through Shallow Water —
the leaf came off in the next dip.

 

Pelk Mouth Open - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Mouth Open

TABJ readers have seen pelicans do lip stretches before and will probably see them here again. I don't know anybody else who can do anything like this, then fly away, and it's way too strange not to shoot and shoot and shoot when they do.

Pelk Mouth - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Resereved.

Pelk Mouth Inversion

These shots are a little closer than usual, with more "tongue" detail, and don't you just love that little hook on the end of its beak that's usually not so noticeable?

Chin Scratch - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Chin Scratch

Then this. Everybody's chin itches, but not everybody can pretzel their bodies and reach their tiny orange feet around to scratch it without toppling over. And look so elegant doing it.


 January 2007

Pelican Beak Stretch Extreme - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Extreme Pelican Beak Stretch

Meanwhile, there were pelicans doing what pelicans do. Which are sometimes amazing to watch. And the mystery of which is male and which female. Anna guessed the females have pink beaks and the males are yellow-orange.

January 11 2007

Pelk Beaking - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelicans Beaking

Even this is not that much of a tele shot. I used to think pelican beaking like this was combatative. But now I'm thinking it's gentle, a little romantic, like touching, a courtship behavior. Wish I could tell them apart better, so I could follow them through spring. They leave in April.

January 3 2006

Pelican Beak Stretch - Copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Pelican Beak Stretch

October 28 2007

Beak Battle - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Two Pelicans Beaking

Except for two bands on one pelican's left leg and two big white birds balancing on their right foot, today's entry is about beaks. Pelks don't have hands, so they have to use something to establish dominance. Beaks are it in the persuit of pecking-order.

 

Pelk Streatch - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Pelk Beak Stretch

Not an uncommon occurrence, nor that I've got an image of it. What's different this time, besides the details from being so very close when it happened, is that I managed to capture some of the more elusive between expression expressions, some of which surprised me, as you will shortly see.

Tongue Back - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Like this — and Don't Those Feet Look Big

Little details like that round protrusion at the back of the beak that I've never seen before. Heretofore, I thought they just bent the lower mandible back over their chest. This is more than that. What or why I don't know yet.

Teapot Face - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.'

Pelican Teapot Face

Another new shape for this photographer. It does resemble a teapot, huh?

Tongue Dragging - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Is That a Tongue?

That little cut-off hosey thing a tongue? Or what?

(In the following, I'm green and, as usual, Betsy is amber.)

Betsy Baker emails: "Some great action shots you've been getting lately. I particularly liked the one of the coot running over the water and the ones of the pellies stretching their bills & pouches. That truncated tube inside the bill might be the place where excess salt (for when the birds are on salt water, such as the Great Salt Lake breeding grounds) is excreted.

Nat'l Geo page about pelican bills: www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0606/feature3/learn.html

Or, it might be one of the flap-like openings of the epiglottis (see 2nd para of Pelican notes starting at bottom of first page below), tho I doubt it -- it's too centrally located: elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Condor/files/issues/v045n01/p0037-p0038.pdf )

Unless it's the very short tongue (though it certainly doesn't look much like a tongue, does it?)

I think it does. Or at least the lump behind the tubular protrusion looks very tongue-like.

Here's the most detailed description I have found of the anatomy of the pelican, and having scanned that part of this account (by J. J. Audubon himself), I'll be darned if I think I saw a description of that little tidbit, in spite of the fact that he and his companions killed several birds in order to be able to supply such a detailed description. Perhaps if you read it more slowly than I did?
www.audubon.org/bird/boa/F41_G4a.html

Kinda frustrating, but I haven't been able to come up with anything definitive yet.

Phooey!
Betsy

Open Wide - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Open Wide and Say Ahhh

More than a hint what's going on in there. Imagine the fear of a fish trying to escape a line of these maws seining after them in shallower ad shallower water.

Additional examples of Pelican Beak Stretches from last month.

Delta Shaped Mandible - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Bump Mouth

Leads me to believe a portion of the lower mandible is rigid, then the rest of it dangles, wiggles, stretches and opens incredibly wide.

Beak Away - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Not Quite a Mirror Image

See how floppy the pelican on the right's forward, lower mandible becomes?

October 18 2007

Dipping Pelicans - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Dipping Pelicans

Though not quite in the unison I've come to expect, these pelicans are engaged in the time-worn pattern of their fishing outings. Swim, dip forward till the whole head is under, wings balancing and legs and butt showing in counterbalance.

Fullish Pouches - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Fullish Pouches

Filling pouches with whatever's down there worth catching. Au juice.

Rubpled Beak - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Rumpled Beak

What looks, at some distance and in sunlight, like bright white, is not necessarily so. Notice the owie on the end of this swimming pelican's beak, just before the raised and circling hook. Look at the thin, semi-circular texture of its lower mandible — the one that stretches till next Tuesday when it's full of fish. And the brown, perhaps muddy ends of its lower feathers as it swims closer to further inspect the lone photog standing on the pier that's been partially repaired then drowned under water in this week's flood. This beak has been through some serious abuse..

October 12 2007

Dredging for Fish?

The reason there's so little detail in this shot is that the bird is waaaay out in the bay. Looks like it's dredging for fish and has caught something.

Caught Something

But what it has caught does not resemble a fish. It's flat and long and dark with a point at the bottom end. The pelk's lower mandible is stretched out all out of proportion for such a little thing.

It's Not A Fish.

Nope. Not a fish. In fact, it looks like a large feather. Why did this pelican go to the bother of catching a feather? Once it caught the feather, why is it now flipping it in its beak while expelling the water that came with the feather?

Aaack!

And now, after having caught the feather and flipped it in its beak to get it lengthwise instead of sideways, why has this silly bird now opened its beak as wide and far as it possibly can with the feather stuck in the middle. Surely not for decoration. Is it retching?

Feather Expelled

If this bird has actually attempted to swallow this feather, has it now expelled it? How is the bird holding the feather in place like this. And, of course, why?

October 20 2006

Pelican Tongue - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Looks like a big old tongue, but it's a waffling lower beak

After our annual visit to the state fair, we visited the pelks at Sunset Bay and saw more beak stretching. I hope the last time I'll have to feature that particular activity. Just I've been waiting for this particular stretch. I knew they did it, seen other people's pictures. Seen them do it before I was as quick as I sometimes am now. And this is what it looks like.

October 17 2006

Beak Stretch - copyright 2006 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Stretchola with Cool and Warm Beaks

 

November 20 2007

Pelican Pouch Stretch - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

American White Pelican Pouch Stretch

Ya jest nevah know waz gonna yappen. So I take what I can take, then hope for something a little different. Today the two clouds of white feathery pelicans helped my plight by doing some basic and advanced beak stretches. Then, when I tired of the yap action, along came something even more exciting. And, in focus!

Tongue Show - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Tongue Show

Here's a view of beak we usually don't get to see. Or want to, much.

Bug in the Beak - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Inverted Inner Pouch View

Pelican eye view.

Bent Beak - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Bent Beak

There's a certain length of rigid lower mandible holding the rest of it, uh, up.

Wibble Wobble Beak - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Wiggle-Woggle Beak

This is not a simple, still photo. It's one of a very fast series of shots as this pelican wiggle-woggles its pouch.

Pouch - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Pouch Hoop Stretch

This is another of a series of stretches.

Yapup - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Yapup Stretch

And a pancake pouch wave.

The whole progression is quick, usually in the same order, although the first two are sometimes interchanged.

  1. Wiggle-waggle accompanied by gurgle-like lip-flapping sound.
  2. Inverted pouch over chest
  3. Head stretch up and tilt back into pancake pouch wave as above

All of which is sometimes accompanied by a pouch hoop stretch between 2 and 3.

Then the bird returns again to preen mode, or swims out to the other cloud of pelks. The wiggle-waggle, however, does not always proceed into the rest of these motions. Sometimes I can guess which bird will do it next. But most of the time it's a surprise, so I keep watching, watching, watching with the camera uncomfortably ready, lens at wide zoom, hand grasping it over the top, so I can quickly twist / zoom in on one pelk stretching.

November 6 2007

Pelk Beak Stretch - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Pelican Beak Stretch

After shooting at the lake today, I went on a long, wild tour of art spaces I'd never been to before, and I nearly forgot I'd shot any birds today. (When I say that that way I often remember the birders' patron saint, who, in order to study and draw birds, actually killed them first. My "bullets" are digital files and don't hurt birds. Most of the beak-stretches I've shot have been from the other side, not showing the bird's upper beak, head and eyes. So this was a new view.

Not that I planned it. I was lucky enough to see its head go up, and I just started clicking away.

 

February 22

Wild Pelican Lunge - copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved.

Two Pelicans in Fierce Conversation

I never know what these things will be about until they're in place. Then I rewrite them a dozen times. Out there, I shoot what I see, rarely preconceiving, and it's way too difficult to get any of these guys to pose. I do look for certain things, but today's original targets were elusive. When I met Anna at the Boat House later, she suggested we drive around to Sunset Bay.

 

Pelicans Waiting - Copyright 2007 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

This Is What They Were Doing When We Arrived

Within seconds two, three and more of them were engaging in various forms of lower mandible stretching. As if they knew we were coming and had saved up. Note the second whole pelican from the left's expanded chin uplifted.

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All text and photographs copyright 2008 by J R Compton.
All Rights Reserved. No reproduction in any medium without
specific written permission from the writer or photographer.

Thanks always to Anna.

No reproduction without specific written permission.

Formerly "The Addlepated Birder's Journal"

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