White Pelicans – A big gulp

I stopped by Ollies Pond for about an hour on the 21st.  Like most small bodies of water here in SW Florida the drought had diminished the size and made it easier for fishing birds to get to their dinner.  This also means that some of the bigger fish that stayed in the deeper water and didn’t get taken are now available.  That’s probably a good thing for raptors like Ospreys and Eagles but it’s tougher on the birds that swallow their prey whole.

There are about 100 or so White Pelicans who have taken to the pond.  They tend to feed in rafts with their feet herding the fish around until someone catches one.  Once they make a catch, they move away to let others feed.zDSC_6469

There were two of these working on the pond and as someone got their fish they moved off as an individual and would eventually join one of the rafts again.  It didn’t seem to matter which there was a lot of transfer between rafts.

Now and again a large fish managed to get caught by one of the pelicans.  The two I saw looked to me like Tilapia.  The first was really large and the Pelican was having a lot of difficulty with it.  It was actually damaging the pouch with it’s sharp spined fins and biting.  It moved away before I actually saw it swallowed.


Another one had found a slightly smaller fish and eventually managed to get it down.  You can see the comparison of the neck in the second image here.




About birds n' bugs

Retired, living in SW Florida and spending my time at nature photography in my local area. I volunteer with a couple of local organizations to help my adopted home town. Travelling is now by airplane and car instead of a sailboat but happy anyway.
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5 Responses to White Pelicans – A big gulp

  1. Kyle says:

    Great captures and cool blog! I initially noticed your “pelican vs fish” series the first set at the top. That looks like a huge fish (do you know what kind and can you see it thrashing about inside the pouch??) caught and staring down (you can even make out it’s shocked open mouth it seems!) its captor’s throat here!

    So does the bird really manage to win the battle and gulp down that whole thing entirely okay?? Does the fish put up a good fight? If eaten, does the unlucky prey get swallowed wriggling all the way down as well?!

    • That huge fish is a Tilapia. They were being bred commercially and enough of their sticky eggs stowed away on wading birds that they have now populated ponds throughout Florida. They don’t go to hooks so most folks fish for them with nets or gigs. The big ones tend to stay in deeper water and usually aren’t caught by birds. We’ve been having a drought for a couple of months and a lot of the ponds are getting pretty shallow bringing the big ones in reach or predators.

      The bird does usually win the battle and get it down somehow. The last image shows two pelicans the one in front with the thick neck just got the tilapia that far down. It will take a while but eventually it gets completely swallowed.

      • Kyle says:

        Just stumbled across this interesting series/blog again! Those must be some hungry pelicans! The frantic/big fish seem to do some damage and it looks like quite a fight for “lunch and life!”!

        Still, it seems difficult to me that the Pelicans can deal with this large (such as the tilapia or image you said with the fish deep down the gullet. It could still have a chance of escape?) fish! So the bird was actually able to fit (swallowed alive?!) that whole thing down its long/skinny throat completely somehow?? I have never witnessed an event like this before.

        I feel somewhat perplexed over how it actually happens, wouldn’t the fish stand a chance of escaping or even damaging (it’s sharp fins, wriggling, biting, etc.) the bird’s throat/stomach once it had been eaten in that condition?!

        It’s hard for me to imagine that the formidable-looking fish (wouldn’t the prey also go into a desperate “survival mode” once it realized that it hit the stomach?) doesn’t turn around inside the elastic gullet and make a scramble back up, also how the bird can keep down/digest such an object with no issues?

        I don’t have much knowledge about these events and am mostly curious, I appreciate any feedback/explanation.
        Sorry for all of the questions, have a good week 😉

  2. Hi Kyle,
    I am recovering from shoulder surgery and haven’t replied.

    In the case of the Pelican, I don’t know if it survived or not. I don’t believe it could actually swallow that fish whole and the most likely scenario is that the fish escaped through the pouch. Holes in the pouch would diminish the pelicans ability to catch smaller fish so it’s ability to feed itself would be diminished.

    I think the pelican was trying to get rid of it by dipping it’s pouch into the water but the spines of the fins were embedded in the pouch.

    Pelicans don’t actively control opening and closing the pouch they simply move it about filling it with water like a balloon.

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