Morning comes softly to Puerto Rico. An early array of colors blushes the sky, edging clouds with indigo shadows. The sky brightens slowly but steadily until the sun eases over the horizon in a final burst of radiance. In the in-between time the pelicans arrive. One by one or in groups of two or three. They wing their way across the dawn, entrancing me as surely as the sunrise.
Their silhouettes and dense beaks call to mind pterodactyls and prehistoric times. They whirl and circle over the shallow surging surf, powerful and fluid in flight. Intently they eye the depths and then turn, dive and plunge, hitting the water with an audible THUD! and a splash, like a fish-seeking
missile. When they’re successful, they emerge from turquoise water to tilt their head back, their distinctive throat pouch apparent as they swallow their catch…gulp, gulp. Soon they’re off again wheeling and diving or gliding in smoothly to rest on a piling, rousting smaller birds. They spread their wings wide and perch, facing the early morning sun.
Preening, they ruffle through their feathers with their long beaks. Sometimes they twist their sinuous necks and rub their heads up and down their backs, over and over again. Some float in the water, rising and falling with the crests of the waves, seemingly unperturbed by the motion around them.
Each morning last week I sat on a bench, in a hammock or at the open-air restaurant watching the pelicans, fascinated by their ceaseless activity, enthralled and relishing the sweet start to the day. This week, back at home in Maine, morning comes softly as well. It has its own dramatic beauty, framed by pines and oaks rather than palm trees, and it is just as sweet. But I do miss those pelicans.
On a side note, no post about pelicans could be complete without including this wonderful, whimsical pelican limerick–a clever delight no matter who authored it. It often ran through my mind as I enjoyed watching the pelican escapades each morning.
by Ogden Nash or by Dixon Lanier Merritt
A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill can hold more than his beli-can.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for the week;
But I’m damned if I see how the heli-can.
Note: I did a bit of research and learned that pelicans aren’t only fun to watch, they’re quite fascinating to read about. They rub their heads on their backs to pick up an oily secretion from their glands. The rubbing head then distributes this over their feathers to keep them waterproof. Apparently they also have air sacs under their skin and in their bones to keep them especially buoyant. These air sacs also help cushion their bodies when they hit the water in those high speed fish-seeking dives. Another fun fact–the American white pelican can hold up to 3 gallons of water in its bill. Wow! Finally, I learned that there’s a reason pelicans look prehistoric–they’ve been around for 30 to 40 million years! Clearly they’re doing something right!