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Facts About Pelicans

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Facts About Pelicans
Photo © Nina Henry / iStockphoto.

Pelicans and their relatives are a group of birds that include the blue-footed booby, brown pelican, red-billed tropicbird, cormorants, gannets, and the great frigatebird. Pelicans and their relatives have webbed feet and are well adapted to catching fish, their primary food source. Many species dive or swim underwater to capture their prey.

FACT: Pelicans and their relatives belong to the Order Pelecaniformes.
Members of the Order Pelecaniformes include pelicans, tropicbirds, boobies, darters, gannets, cormorants and frigatebirds. There are six families and about 65 species in the Order Pelecaniformes.

FACT: Pelicans and their relatives are the only group of birds to have webbing between all four toes.
Pelecaniformes are strong swimmers and have large, webbed feet that enable them to efficiently propel themselves through the water and control their direction.

FACT: Pelicans and their relatives use an assortment of different feeding behaviors that vary from species to species.
Some species such as gannets and tropicbirds dive into the water at great speed to capture their prey. Other species such as pelicans possess a pouch that enables them to scoop fish that are swimming at the surface. Cormorants swim underwater, chasing after their prey.

FACT: Cormorants and Darters have special feathers that absorb water and enable them to dive more efficiently.
Since the surface feathers of such birds soak up water readily, the birds are less bouyant and therefore better able to dive and maneouver beneath the surface.

FACT: Pelecaniformes often breed on remote islands or inaccessible cliffs.
Such locations enable them to avoid predatos and also to nest in large colonies.

FACT: The northern gannet is perhaps the most dramatic of all pelecaniformes in the manner in which it feeds.
Northern gannets plunge dive from heights of up to 150 ft and at speeds of up to 60 mph. They spot their prey before they dive using sharp vision and then tuck their wings back as the plummet in for the kill.

FACT: The nostrils of pelecaniformes are narrow or closed slits.
This adaptation prevents water from being forced into their airways when they dive into the water. Since their nostrils are closed (or nearly closed), pelicans and their relatives breath through their mouth.

FACT: Early pelecaniforms appeared during the end of the Cretaceous period.
There is some controversy whether or not pelecaniformes all share common descent. Recent studies suggest that some shared characteristics among the various pelecaniform subgroups are the result of convergent evolution.

FACT: Most pelecaniforms have a pouch-like gular sac.
Pelicans have a pouch on their lower bill which enables them to scoop up fish. The species most suited for diving to catch prey (such as cormorants and gannets) ingest stones that weight them down and help them plunge into the water more efficiently. They also have streamlined bodies and narrow nostrils (to prevent water from rushing in during a dive).

FACT: The blue-footed booby has the most recognizable feet of all penguins.
The blue, webbed feet of the blue-footed booby are used in courtship displays and to help keep their eggs warm.

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