PELICAN

From Agepedia

Jump to: navigation , search

PELICAN (pelecanas, Lin.); bill long, straight, broad, much depressed; upper mandibles flattened, terminated by a nail, or very strong hook, the lower formed by two bony branches, which are depressed, flexible, and united at the tip ; from these branches is suspended a naked skin, in form of a pouch ; face and throat naked; nostrils basal, in the form of narrow longitudinal slits; legs short and strong; all the four toes connected by a web; wings of moderate dimensions. The pelicans are large birds, which reside on rivers, lakes, or along the seacoasts. Though excellent swimmers, they also occasionally perch on trees. They are gregarious, very fond of fish, and when harassed or pursued, readily reject the contents of their stomach, like the gull tribe. They store up their prey in their gular pouch, from which it is gradually transferred into the ozsophagus, as the process of digestion goes on. Though remarkable for their voracity, some of *he species have been trained to fish in the service of man. In external appearance the sexes very nearly resemble each other.P. onocrotalus, Lin., &c.; white, or common pelican; white, faintly tinged withfleshcolor.gullet wltha bright yellow pouch. The spurious wings and first quill feathers are black. The bag at the throat is flaccid, membranous, and capable of great distention. Length between five and six feet; extent of wing eleven feet; being rather larger than the swan, though with much shorter legs. The young are distinguished by the prevalence of cinereous in their plumage, and have been erroneously designated P. Phiiippensis and P. fuscus^ by Gmelin and Latham. This bird has its specific r,ame from its cry, which is loudest during flight, and which the ancients compared to the braying of an ass ; inhabits Asia, Africa and South America. About the middle of September, flocks of this species repair to Egypt, in regular bands, terminating in an obtuse angle. During the summer months, the)' take up their abode on the borders of the Black sea and the shores of Greece. They are rare in France, and unknown in Great Britain. In fishing, they do not immediately swallow their prey, but fill their bag, and return to the shore to consume at leisure the fruits of their industry. As, however, they quickly digest their food, they generally fish more than once in the course of the day, and, for the most part, in the morning and evening, when the fish are most in motion. A single pelican will, at one repast, despatch as many fish as would suffice for six men; and in confinement, it will, moreover, snap up rats and other small quadrupeds. At night, it retires a little way on the shore to rest, with its head leaning against its breast; and in this attitude it remains almost motionless, till hunger calls it to break off its repose. It then flies from its restingplace, and, raising itself thirty or forty feet above the surface of the sea, turns its head, with one eye downwards, and continues on wing till it sees a fish sufficiently near the surface, when it darts down with astonishing swiftness, seizes it with unerring certainty, and stores it up in its pouch ; it then rises again, and continues the same manoeuvres till it has procured a competent stock. The female feeds her young with fish that have been macerated for some time in her pouch. The pelican is not only susceptible of domestication, but may even be trained to fish for its master. When a number of pelicans and corvorants (cormorants) get together, th"y are said to practise a singular method of taking fish ; for they spread into a large circle, at some distance from land, the pelicans flapping on the surface of the water with their extensive wings, and the corvorants diving beneath, till the fish contained within the circle are driven before them towards the land; and, as the circle contracts by the birds drawing closer together, the fish are at length reduced within a narrow compass, when their pursuers find no difficulty in securing them. In this exercise, they are often attended by various species of gulls, which participate in the spoil. The pelican generally breeds in marshy and uncultivated places, particularly about islands and lakes, making its nest, which is deep, and a foot and a half in diameter, of sedges and aquatic plants, and lining it with grass of a softer texture; but it frequently dispenses with any such formal construction. It lays two or more white eggs, of equal roundness at the two ends, and which, when persecuted, it sometimes hides in the water. When it nestles in dry and desert places, it brings water to its young in its bag, which is capable of containing nearly twenty pints of liquid ; but that it feeds them with its own blood, must be ranked among the fabulous assertions of antiquity. Its flesh is very generally disliked.