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Bird of the month: Pelican

My Magazine 2022/04
1 min
The most familiar characteristic of the pelicans is the gular pouch which serves them as a scoop when it comes to catching fish which is their almost exclusive food. There are two types of pelicans present in The Gambia. The first one is the Great White Pelican, a non-breeding visitor, and the second is Pink-backed Pelican, which is resident in The Gambia.

Those huge waterbirds have a massive bill and long neck, which they use to drawback heads during the flight. With their black/grey and white patterned wings that can stretch up to 3 m wide with the Great White and half a meter less with Pink-backed, they create heavy wingbeats in a strong flight.

Photo by: Mark Goddard

Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens) is duller in appearance than Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus). As the name implies, the Great White grows taller than Pink-backed, both usually reaching above 1,5m in height. Adults are white with black flight feathers. They do both have a yellow pouch and yellowish chest. The Great White Pelican has pink cutting edges on the bill and pale pink bare facial skin, which, apart from the vividness, distinguishes it from the Pink-backed Pelican the best. Both their colours intensify in the bare parts as the breeding period approaches. The Pink-backed Pelican, hence the name, develops a pinkish tinge to the upper parts in this period.

Photo by: Mark Goddard

Juveniles are brown and white in colour, paler, and they progressively lose brown on the wings as they mature in the 3rd or 4th year.

Photo by: Mark Goddard

Regarding their behaviour, Great White Pelicans tend to fish in coordinated groups while Pink-backed Pelican fishes singly. The latter usually roosts and nests in trees while the great one sets the nest on the ground. Whole Pink-backend is moving only on local territory, and Great White is an intra-African migrant. They both stay in aquatic habitats due to their choice of food.

The photos were taken by Mark Goddard in the Gambia Kayaking Parks & Wildlife. These are pelicans included in the Pelican rehabilitation project in Tanji, where they help pelicans that have been captured by the people and kept as house pets. The rehabilitation process includes teaching birds how to fish and gain strength in their wings to help them eventually fly off. They have already successfully rehabilitated three pelicans so far.

Photo by: Mark Goddard

Photo Credits: Mark Goddard

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