The Graceful Spot-billed Pelican

Yesterday, from my window, I saw these graceful birds return from their annual migration. There weren’t too many of them. I think this is just the first lot. This time, lets meet the Spot-billed Pelican.

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Arriving from their annual migration…

To me, it is the most graceful flying bird. One has to see the pelican up close to realize how big these birds are. A bird with gigantic wings, their wingspan measures 8 feet! Thats about as big as the tallest humans and this is the smallest of the three pelicans in my land!!! (The smallest of all Pelicans is the Brown Pelican found in the Americas).

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Graceful flyers…

About:

These big birds are mostly white with dark flight feathers. The beak is long with a big pouch and as the name suggests, has small dark spots along its length. It has a hooked yellow-orange tip.

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The adult…

They appear to be wearing golden goggles and their eyes look like red marbles from a distance, They have short duck-like legs. The feet too are webbed. Their crested hind necks appear greyish with a mix of curly and straight “hair”.

The young ones (header photo above) are brown-backed, lack the beak spots and their goggles are not as prominent.

I have not been able to spot any difference between boys and girls.

Behavior:

They are mostly duck-like in their behavior. Just like ducks, they are normally seen floating around in rivers and large lakes. One of the main differences between them is in their flight. Unlike ducks, who fly with their necks fully outstretched, pelicans fly with their necks held back.

They can drink while flying. This is how they do it (clockwise from top left):

Pelican Water Sequence

Collecting water for the young ones…

I once saw a Pelican and a Painted Stork flying together on the same flight path and had a chance to compare their flight. I saw that in the time the pelican flapped once, the painted stork flapped its wings five times! That is effortless flying.

They make their nests on the tops of trees along watersides.  Suitable nesting material can be hard to find.

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Collecting nesting material…

They feed their young ones in a very interesting way. When the parents arrive, the chicks start clamouring for food. Contrary to our expectation, the food is not stored in the pouch. The parent lines up its beak, opens it and allows the chick’s beak to get deep inside and feeds it.

In this process, the chick’s beak can go so deep inside, it almost reaches the parent’s neck! The parents also ensure that all the chicks are well fed by feeding them in turns. They refuse to open their beak if a chick who has had its turn tries again. After mealtime, the parents are off to get more food.

Threats:

Over the years, several colonies are known to have have disappeared.

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Not their favourite perch…

At one place, I saw a flock of pelicans on a high tension wire and pylon. It must have been difficult for them to balance there with their webbed feet not designed for perching. But this is where we pushed these (near threatened) birds.

16 comments

  • Nice informative blog post Aditya. It is indeed sad to see how birds have to adapt to the pressures of humans and unfortunately is a worldwide issue. Here in Canada we seem to be seeing less of the migrating birds each year and it’s probably due to a combination of habitat loss and food loss, (food loss for birds probably due to changes in farming techniques). It was great to get an introduction to a bird we’ve never seen….yet 😁. Keep up the great blogs.

    • Thank you so much for the encouraging words.

      I believe it is the same challenge everywhere. In India, while the farming techniques may still not be that modern, we have issues of habitat loss due to human – nature conflict. Also, wide use of chenicals & pesticides means loss of food & poisoning among the birds. Vultures, once common, are nearly extinct because of chemical use. Now, we hardly get to see sparrows – and these birds were common not so long ago. There are other similar stories.

      While this conflict is an everyday fact, the deterioration is gradual, barely noticeable in day to day life. Longer term trends do tell a story and that story is scary.

      Thank you for stopping by. 🙂

  • Pelicans are amazing birds. Thank you for introducing me to a new species (I’m only familiar with the American White Pelican).
    Best wishes,
    Tanja

  • Thanks for the information about this stork. I really enjoyed the video showing the babies being fed in the nest!

    • Thanks for visiting. Always happy to share my experiences.

      I felt that I had to share this video as words could not have done justice to the beautiful bond between the parents and the young ones.

      Thank you once again. 🙂

  • Thanks for this info.
    What is their migration pattern? I see them around August near Bangalore… and they stick around for a while. Even now, in April I think they are there (they were there in March, and I haven’t been that side since mid-March, for obvious reasons). When and where do they migrate to and from?

    • In South India, Pelicans are local migrants. I have seen them start flying out to their nesting areas during October – December and start returning around this time of the year.

      Since they are local migrants, there is always a chance you may be able to see them throughout out the year depending on the areas you are in / you visit. There are nesting sites in and around Bangalore as well.

      Thank you for visiting.

  • Thanks for the Pelican blog. It is real good to know about this bird. It has amazing features wings eight feet wide and the way they feed their little ones, with complete discipline the little ones line up and cannot take more than their share. Full credit to you for this wonderful search . And the photographs are real fantastic I feel like putting it in my room. Buddy keep it up love to have more such blogs.God bless you.LOVE R P .

    • Thank you, Sir for the kind and encouraging words. I will continue to do my best.

      Which is the picture you like the most? I will have it sent to you. 🙂

  • #6 – terrific photograph! RH

  • Kavisha Singh

    Beautiful photography as usual! You should link this blog to Instagram or Twitter for wider readership. I follow a bunch of nature photographers on there.

  • Wonderful post. Thank you.

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