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The OLD MAN in the Keys - Part-3, Maybe its the Pelicans

Updated on May 15, 2017
Don Bobbitt profile image

Don is a Writer and a Storyteller. He has published over 7 books on varied subjects along with many articles and commentary on his blogs.

A Pelican perched on a Dock pole

A Pelican resting on a pier pole waiting for its next meal.
A Pelican resting on a pier pole waiting for its next meal. | Source

Maybe its the Pelicans

The Old Man in the Keys - #3

March 1, 2017

Maybe its the Pelicans!

If you’ve ever been near or on an Ocean shore for very long, I’m sure you've become familiar with the birds known as Pelicans.

In fact, if you think about the whole Keys experience, it wouldn't be quite as interesting, in my opinion, if there were no Pelicans around to relax and watch.

So, perhaps one of the things that will draw a person to the Keys is the abundance of Pelicans seemingly everywhere you go.

To be honest, over the years, I’ve watched these ugly, and at the same time beautiful, birds called Pelicans, for hours on end.

I have spent a lot of time watched Pelicans and their lifestyle. I’ve observed them while; visiting some beach or pier in my travels, or often just sitting on a stool in some waterfront Tiki Bar.

Needless to say, but, I will anyway, if there is a Tiki Bar involved, I will most likely have a cold beer near at hand.

If you think about it, the real Tiki Bars, that you probably remember as the best, are invariably situated on a body of salt water with a “postcard like” view.

And if that body of water is large enough, (like an ocean or large bay?) there are definitely going to be Pelicans hanging around nearby, waiting for their next meal to show up.

Watching Pelicans can be an interesting way to relax.

But regardless of where I might be, I’ve watched these birds often enough to have formed an opinion on them and how they live.

I have realized that wherever you might see these birds, It doesn’t take long before you begin to suspect that they seem to have a wonderfully idyllic lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong, I know they have relatively short lifespans, and I know that without there being a sea or bay nearby, loaded with plentiful supplies of fish, the Pelicans will have quickly disappear to other places where there is an abundant supply of food.

And, I know that Pelicans are seen by many people as large, bothersome, and messy birds that manage to stain everything they perch on with their feces.

An intriguing bird and lifestyle

But, to me, they’re just so intriguing, as they go about their days, that I can watch them for hours.

And I suggest that if you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you should also spend a little time watching them yourself.

Most often, when you do notice one of these lazy birds they will be sitting quietly, often on the top of some rotting pier post, seemingly just waiting, for something to happen.

From my observations over the years, it seems that Pelicans spend most of their days doing three things; sleeping, preening their feathers and occasionally looking around to keep an eye on the water near them on the off chance of scoring some free food.

And, of course, as I have said, in between meals they just find a nice perch, tuck their heads back under their wing and sleep.

Oh, and Pelicans are always available to take donations from people. If a fisherman tosses out a bucket of fish guts, skeletons, and skins, dozens of Pelicans will immediately appear to go after this free buffet.

During truly desperate times and if they’re really hungry they may even grab a dead fish carcass that might be floating on the tides nearby, or lying on a beach.

In rare instances, when they’re really hungry, they may even hop over to a pier or shoreline, ignore the humans around them and walk around looking for some donated food, for a few minutes.

But inevitably, they’ll always go back to their perch on the top of some green-looking post, covered with a half-inch or more of previously dropped bird-feces, to continue waiting patiently for their next free treat.

The Pelicans as Fishermen

After all of these descriptions of Pelicans as being lazy and laid back scavengers, I need to stop and describe the other side of a Pelican’s life, the life of a very efficient fishing machine.

Those laid-back Pelicans you see sitting on a pole or floating peacefully in the water can quickly transform into an efficient fishing machine when it, or one of its buddies, detects signs that there might be a school of a few thousand “bait fish” swimming nearby.

I'm sure that you have often noticed these schools of fish as they stir up the water’s surface attempting to escape from the many underwater predators who are constantly feeding on them.

You’ll see these fish stirring the surface of the water in their exuberance to escape, and it doesn’t take long before any Pelicans who are nearby to get in on the feeding game.

The first few seconds of their flight is so awkward that its entertaining to watch as they spread their wings and work their way from their favorite perch and into the air. When you see this sudden launch of one or more Pelicans into the air, you know they are on their way to check out this possibility of a free meal, more closely.

Once they’re in flight and have gained a little altitude to where they are themselves right over the stirring water; this is when the Pelican’s demeanor shifts quickly from casual observer, to that of a skilled predator.

The Pelican will adjust its position in the air over the school of fish as if planning its optimum attack point, and then suddenly, it will convert itself from that awkward bird you saw a moment ago lazily preening itself on a wharf pole into what nature designed it to be.

The neck and the head will straighten out aligned with the birds body, the wings will fold back tightly around the body and the bird’s head and body will point straight down at the water.

As you watch, this gawky looking bird will have turned itself into a streamlined torpedo, and it will be dropping speedily down towards the surface of the water.

Then, with hardly a splash, the bird will disappear underwater for a second, maybe two, before it reappears on the surface. But now, the pouch under its long bill is bulging with several of the game fish, still fighting desperately to escape their doom.

The Pelican’s beak will rise slowly into the air and the head will jerk up and down a few times as it gulps its fresh meal down its throat.

After it gulps a few times, the pouch shrinks back to its normal size ready to hold and process another meal.

The Life of a Pelican

The Pelican may sit on the surface of the water for a few seconds as it digests its fresh catch and then it will once again spread and wave its wings once more, fighting for flight.

Once it's in flight, it will slowly rise in the air, and circle over the water's surface a few more times looking for a chance at another easy meal. And if it sees the opportunity the whole feeding process repeats itself.

But, if the school of fish has moved on, the circling Pelican doesn’t worry, it will just casually start looking for its favorite perch and yet another wait for its next meal.

Ah, the life of a Pelican.

by Don Bobbitt, March,1 2017

© 2017 Don Bobbitt


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    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      3 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Peggy Woods - Pelicans and their grace in the air as opposed to their clumsy antics on the ground never fail to entertain me also.

      Have a Good Day,


    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I have always enjoyed watching pelicans. We have them here in Galveston and along the entire Gulf Coast which is where I have watched them and photographed them. I even created a linocut featuring one of them with some seagulls in the background.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      14 months ago from Texas

      Don, this is interesting and I know it is a fun watch to see these birds in their desire for a meal wherever they can get. I have seen them and did enjoy watching.

      Blessings my friend

    • Don Bobbitt profile imageAUTHOR

      Don Bobbitt 

      16 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      Meredith Davies - I think Pelicans provide something, when you watch them, that calms the human soul. Or, at least it does for me. They are unpredictable in their actions but at the same time very predictable in their lifestyle.

      Thanks for the comment,


    • Cal-gal profile image

      Meredith Davies 

      16 months ago

      They are such an interesting and effective predator. I wonder what weight of fish that pouch of theirs can take. It is like a big scoop. We have 3 types of kingfishers where we live but their beak is more again to catching a fish up with tweezers.

      I thoroughly enjoy watching birds as it makes you realize what is important in life.


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