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"Nature's Flying Fisherman"
|By: LeRoy French
14 November 2008
I don't have to tell you that our environment is filled with some amazing
animals. Two of these species are probably the leaders in how to catch
fish. They are the Caribbean Brown Pelican and the Frigate Bird. I am
sure that at one time or another everybody has seen these birds soaring
through the sky and diving into the water.
As these birds seem to do quite well feeding and living among us
humans with our boats, motors and other noises, I am going to tell you
what makes them so special. Their features are incredible!
First I'll start with the Caribbean Brown Pelican, actually a sub-specie of the
brown pelican. I know that many boat owners have called these birds all
kinds of unfriendly names. When residing on someones boat they tend to
leave a mess before departing. As these birds are fish eaters there is an
odor involved. Ok so much for that. This bird has an average weight of
around 8 to 10 Ibs and is about 4 feet long. He has an incredible wing span
of 61/2 to 71/2 feet. The most amazing feature on this bird is his keen
eyesight. He can spot a fish from 60 feet in the air and sky dive down
and pluck it out of the water. In some cases he will actually submerge
himself in the process. He has this loose skin or 'gular' pouch on the lower
mandible where he can filter out 3 gallons of water to sieve out his prey. He
also stores his catch there. He consumes about 4 lbs of fish per day and
feeds on everything from mullet, squid, frogs, herring and many more. They
have webbed feet and are very strong swimmers.
The peak season for nesting for our pelicans is between September
through November. The nesting sites are usually inland on small islands
which provide some degree of protection. Their life span is quite long, 25
years or more. Scientists tagged one at 31 years.
This is one of many amazing animals that we live with here on earth and yet
I find it hard to believe that in 1970 this bird was ENDANGERED. I mean
how can a Pelican be endangered, it doesn't really bother anybody but
boat owners. The answer DDT. The decline in the population occurred
between 1960 and 1970. The result of the extensive use of this pesticide
(DDT) accumulated in plants and animals. Then of course these residues
make their way through the food chain.
The Pelican has made a come back and though DDT has been banned it
still lingers in the environment and is still a danger to pelicans. At this time
Pelicans are at the mercy of Mother Nature, Hurricanes, storms etc., that
damage their nesting areas.
If you have ever wondered while you watch this bird sky dive into the water
if this incredible feat can eventually take its toll on it, the answer is yes. Over
the years the Pelican's eyesight becomes clouded from the constant contact
with the salt water. And believe it or not there is a recorded incident in Florida
of a Pelican colliding with a tourist. No one was injured.
The Frigate Bird is the top dog of seabirds. Another bird very common to
St. Maarten. It can be seen soaring along the updrafts over our island,
especially around Simpson Bay. This bird has a few aliases, 'Man of War',
or Pirate bird. Actually in 1738 a naturalist linked the common name frigate to
a sleek sailing ship used for piracy. Why? Because this bird is a master at
stealing from other birds. This bird is actually related to the Pelican and a
small amount of its diet is obtained by robbing other seabirds while in flight.
This is an unbelievable bird. Its powerful body can measure over 40 inches
with a wingspan of over 90 inches, weighing in at around 3.5 lbs.
Last week I mentioned that animals can sense weather changes, this is one
of them. This bird is often spotted riding weather fronts and can detect
changing weather patterns.
Because of its short legs it does not walk well, and cannot take off from a flat
surface. This bird has the largest wingspan to body weight ratio of any bird,
which enables it to stay aloft for more than a week. It basically lands only to
roost or breed and this is usually on cliffs,trees or mangroves. Hence the
reason why mangroves are so important to our islands environment.
Now, what many people do not know is that this seabird does not land on
water. Its body does not produce oil and as a result its feathers will absorb
water. Though it sky dives similar to a pelican, only its hooked beak will
touch the water and snatch its prey.
His reputation is that of a pirate, preferring aerial combat to get what it wants.
It will poke other birds, bite their tail and wings until they are forced to drop
what they are carrying. The frigate birds diet ranges from jellyfish to squid
and fish. Because this bird is equipped with a scissor like tail, this tail
provides for fantastic maneuverability. Even to the point that he frequently
will catch a flying fish.
Two of nature's finest!