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Pelicans are very large birds with very long bills characterised by a downcurved hook at the end of the upper mandible, and the attachment of a huge gular pouch to the lower. The slender rami of the lower bill and the flexible tongue muscles form the pouch into a basket for catching fish and, sometimes, rainwater, though in order not to hinder the swallowing of large fish, the tongue itself is tiny. They have a long neck and short stout legs with large, fully webbed feet. Although they are among the heaviest of flying birds, they are relatively light for their apparent bulk because of air pockets in the skeleton and beneath the skin enabling them to float high in the water. The tail is short and square. The wings are long and broad, suitably shaped for soaring and gliding flight, and have the unusually large number of 30 to 35 secondary flight feathers.
Males are generally larger than females and have longer bills. The smallest species is the Brown Pelican, small individuals of which can be no more than 2.75 kg (6.1 lb) and 1.06 m (3.5 ft) long, with a wingspan of as little as 1.83 m (6.0 ft). The largest is believed to be the Dalmatian, at up to 15 kg (33 lb) and 1.83 m (6.0 ft) in length, with a maximum wingspan of 3 m (9.8 ft). The Australian Pelican's bill may grow up to 0.5 m (1.6 ft) long in large males, the longest of any bird.
Pelicans have mainly light-coloured plumage, the exceptions being the Brown and Peruvian Pelicans. The bills, pouches and bare facial skin of all species become brighter before breeding season commences. The throat pouch of the Californian subspecies of the Brown Pelican turns bright red, and fades to yellow after the eggs are laid, while the throat pouch of the Peruvian Pelican turns blue. The American White Pelican grows a prominent knob on its bill that is shed once females have laid eggs.The plumage of immature pelicans is darker than that of adults. Newly hatched chicks are naked and pink, darkening to grey or black after 4 to 14 days, then developing a covering of white or grey down.
Melissa Gallo texture.
January 4th, 2013
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