The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican title=
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican
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By David Powdrell

So here’s the deal…One of my favorite pastimes is sitting on the Carpinteria Bluffs in late afternoons to watch the pelicans diving for their dinner. Prosecco in one hand. Camera in the other typically. The pelicans were in full force this evening, Thanksgiving 2022.

When dining, the pelicans come in hot from about 30 feet high, then twist, turn, and contort mid-air with the target fish keenly in their sight. WHAM! They hit the water hard. Upon impact, the gular pouches expand like a net. They drain the 2-3 gallons of water taken in at impact, then dine on their catch. 

Their dives are definitely not the elegant Greg Louganis style dive, but rather a twisted dive that Will Farrell or Jack Black might do. As awkward as Brown Pelicans might look, however, they are incredibly successful at fishing. 

Just thought I’d share these images in light of the Edhat article dated May 18th addressing the unusually high influx of brown pelican patients rescued and brought into the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. I hope that the matter has been resolved. From what little I saw this evening; the Brown Pelicans were abundant and vibrant and well fed.   

Full disclosure: These images were taken a few years ago. I focused on Thanksgiving dinner with my sweetie on the beach tonight.


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a-1669593980 Nov 27, 2022 04:06 PM
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

Dave: That close up of Pelican seated is one of the most gorgeous Pelican photos I have ever seen. Truly magnificent. The one drop of sea water suspended on the tip of its bill makes the photo even more splendid.

John Wiley Nov 27, 2022 04:28 PM
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

Love it! But awkward? As one fascinated with all aspects of flight, I respectfully and appreciatively say definitely Not! Consider first the life mission and equipment requirements. For equipment this amphibian has to fly efficiently, take off and land reliably & safely, glide well, swim and walk for years. The mission is to survive and reproduce, requiring many exceptional abilities and skills in a competitive environment. In terms of your "awkward" pix, keep in mind that beyond the equipment, abilities and skills outlined so far, this remarkable flying critter must also Dive on a nimble moving target, survive the impact & submersion, and perform a water takeoff with load! Doing that while meeting all the other mission requirements adds considerably to the mission list. For example, on land the neck extends providing height for a longer view, in flight it tucks back to reduce aerodynamic drag, and for diving it's akin to an airbag helping in the ballet of minimizing shock to the airframe. My own humble take on these fabulous pix is Amazing! Thank you! :D

a-1669625956 Nov 28, 2022 12:59 AM
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

Just wonderful Dave. Y'all will love these osprey photos too!

Resident Nov 28, 2022 08:10 AM
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

Thanks for the Pix! As I professional pilot, I have always been a fan of the pelicans' formation flying abilities and their ability to use ground effect (flying low over the water within less than a wing span in altitude) to their advantage. And their pop-up dives to catch fish are very similar to our fighter jets. The pelicans are interesting birds and Dave's pix are great! Thanks!

paglinsb Nov 28, 2022 08:19 AM
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

Not to mention they weigh about 20 lbs. Amazing strength. Thank you so much for this contemplation of a marvelous creature.

Big Wave Dave Nov 28, 2022 08:28 AM
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

I, too, am in absolute awe of the pelicans flight, their ability to glide effortlessly along ocean swells, their V flight formation, and their efficient ability to feed that has endured for eons of time. Awkward might be the most appropriate word for describing their feeding dive, but as a layman I was smiling while watching the contorted twists and turns as they approached the water.
Thank you all for the kind words about the photos.

Lucky 777 Nov 28, 2022 08:38 AM
The Awkward Dive of the Brown Pelican

Decades ago when I worked at the Zoo we had a lot of rescued "oiled birds" in the back. Most, sadly, did not survive the months of captivity necessary to repair the damage to their feather coats. But the pelicans, oh they were the dinosaur survivors. They were tough, adaptive, and first in line for the fish. So glad they made it back from the DDT scare to be an environmental success story.

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