THEIR BEAKS CAN HOLD MORE THAN THEIR BELLIES CAN
In fact, ~2.6 gallons of water along with the caught fish. After plunging up to 60 feet head first to take on this much water, Pelicans tilt their beaks, drain the water, and then throw their heads back and down goes the fish.
When I was a kid growing up in FL and learning this little ditty, seeing a Brown Pelican was a rare event. In the mid-60s (yes, I was around then) there were a little over 7,000 nesting pairs in FL. In Texas, less than 50 pairs. Louisiana, the ‘Pelican’ state, had 0 nesting pairs! It’s hard for me to grasp that there were no pelican pairs gracing the skies over the coast of Louisiana!
The losses were the result of plumage hunting, flat out killing because they were a ‘threat’ to commercial fishermen catches, and most of all pesticides such as DDT and endrin. DDT thinned their eggshells to the point of breaking when being brooded. The endrin was toxic and many of the DDT survivors died from injesting contaiminated fish. Not good times for this iconic bird.
They were in the freshman class of the Endangered Species Act and state-specific recovery programs. They are back, removed from the ESA in 2009, but are vulnerable to accelerating habitat loss along the coasts. Because of their plunging fishing style, they are also very susceptible to oil spills.