Stop, drop, and fish
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
I recently found out that the Greek island of Mykonos has an official mascot: a great white pelican affectionately known as Petros. It involves a heartwarming story of a local fisherman who discovers and nurses a wounded pelican back to health. Other than the fact that I now suffer from mascot envy, this made me think of the birds I sometimes see waddling around Marina del Rey. To be more specific, I usually see the California Brown Pelican in these parts.
Seeing these creatures always puts a smile on my face knowing that only a few short years ago (until 2009) they were listed on the United States Endangered Species List. DDT, a popular insecticide used by farmers until it was banned in the 1970s, is responsible for negatively impacting our marine habitat, and essentially the entire food chain, to the point where pelicans and other sea life populations were in jeopardy for quite some time. Although they are still a protected species, pelican sightings are a sign that the ecosystem is healthier today.
I never get tired of watching these maritime birds while I sit back, cold brew in hand, on the deck of my boat. They might walk clumsily (like Fred Flinstone) on land due to those flat, webbed feet, but they are so darn graceful when they are soaring high above in search of their next meal. The fun part is watching them nosedive into the water to scoop up the mouth-watering fish they spot glistening under the sun’s rays, or seeing them innocently perched on a railing of a fishing boat hoping to catch a scrap of food from a weathered, hard-working fisherman.
There is this one bird that hangs around on the gas dock. The nickname he has acquired by other local boaters escapes me at the moment, but he has become a regular. He does not fear us at all. As a matter of fact, he graciously accepts food from us. Contrary to popular belief, pelicans do not use those ridiculously large pouches that dangle from their bills as lunch boxes: they prefer fresh food and no leftovers. Imagine being able to stop, drop, and fish whenever the mood strikes because you always have a fishing net at your disposal. In addition to using them for fishing, some pelican species can hold up to three gallons of water in these handy gular pockets!
Brown pelicans are the smallest of the eight species with a wing span of between six to seven feet. Perhaps their ability to “take off” at a moment’s notice has something to do with the fact that these seabirds are not usually itching to say their wedding vows? As soon as mating season is over, they are back out on the dating scene. These philandering birds were swiping left and right long before anyone even created Tinder.
The one saving grace is gender equality. They both share in the responsibility of nest building: the male collects materials and the female builds the nest. In this way, pelicans are certainly ahead of their time.