One of the elegant companions that often join our cruises is the Brown Pelican. Their legs are short, their necks long, and their feet have all four toes webbed to aid in swimming. With wing spans ranging from 6 to 11 feet, they strike an impressive pose in flight. Flaring just above the water, they take advantage of a physical phenomenon called "ground effect". Flying in close proximity to the surface, their wings compress the air underneath them, giving them extra lift, which allows them to float just above the water for an amazingly long time.
Brown Pelicans dive for their meals. While flying, a pelican spies his meal below the surface of the water, then banks steeply, folds his wings back, and falls (sometimes as far as 60 feet) out of the sky. Special air sacks under his skin protect his body from his repetive dives. He then scoops up the fish in the pouch under his bill and neck. His bill will expand to hold up to two and a half gallons. Tipping his bill, he drains out the water and swallows the fish. Occasionally, an opportunistic sea gull may land on its head, waiting for a careless slip of the bill which would afford him the chance to steal a morsel of food from the pelican.
Unfortunately, his eyes lack the protection of eyelids and over time, the cumulative effect of his dives often creates cataracts. For this reason, you might see pelicans feeding off the by-catch of shrimpers and crabbers.