National Geographic : 1943 Nov
Pelican Profiles Like Crossed Swords Are the Clashing Beaks of Jealous Parents Bickering among the elders arises when a young interloper (center left) seeks shade intended for its rightful owner (center right). As the proprietor of the nest seeks to push him away, his own parent resists. wings and attacked all obstacles in his path. Wise old pelicans, several times his strength, gave way. Uttering a whinnying cry, Master Pelican placed his beak in mother's. Flailing wings fanned her head and back. Too im patient to wait for regurgitation to bring up food, he dived for its source. Deep within her gullet, his whinnying was muffled but audible (Plate III). In the Middle Ages this act gave rise to a legend that the mother wounded her breast and fed the young on her own blood. Thus the artist pictured her in ecclesiastical heraldry. Her fabled sacrifice made the pelican a symbol of self-sacrifice and atonement. From my blind I witnessed the feeding's violent termination when mama decided baby had had enough. Swinging her head like a bell, she shook her "suckling" as if he were the clapper. Feet dangling, he hung on desper ately. "Weaned" for the nonce, he fell to the sand. A strange reaction followed dinner. Gorged with fish and intoxicated with false courage, the bold young pelican staggered off and at tacked all in reach. Torpor set in quickly. Walking became impossible. The fledgling slumped asleep beside a bush. Here he would have been easy prey had not Nature devised a stomach pump to restore speed and wits. As I walked among a group of young gluttons, they awoke with fright and, pushing along on bulging bellies, jettisoned their dinners. Some of these castings were im mense. When the disturbance ceased, the young returned and reclaimed their lunch. Fishing Pelicans Form a Living Net No less interesting was the adults' method of catching dinner. From my blind I could observe a long line of birds beating water with their wings as if splashing in their bath. Herding a school of fish, a solid row paddled toward the shallows. Seeking an opening, fish darted from bird to bird. Now the solid ranks of birds broke formation. Lower mandibles, like the scoops of mechanical shovels, were thrust below water. Then I understood the purpose of these foot long beaks. They are intended, not to hold "enough. food for a week," but to serve as fishing nets.