Ornery Breakfast!

December 14, 2012

If you’ve followed my work over the years you know that I have photographed huge, American White Pelicans consuming Asian carp up to 10 pounds. If you haven’t seen some of those photos, several of them are posted on my website, here. After I first published the pelican photos, people often asked me, “How can pelicans swallow fish that are so long? My answer was, “They usually can’t, at least not right away.” In this week’s post I’ve provided an image of a pelican that has just begun to swallow a 7 – 8 pound Asian carp and as you can see, the head of the fish has bottomed out in the stomach and the tail is still up in the bill, actually distending the gular pouch. The pelican will continue to swim around this way until the meal finally degrades enough to work its way on down. The image is almost as gruesome as it is fascinating and when I posted it on a bird photography site a few years ago some of the viewers thought I’d posted an image of a deformed pelican. They felt terribly sorry for the animal until I explained the situation.

Now for the gross part. If the pelicans are disturbed by a boat or person, they often regurgitate their partially-digested meals. Apparently, this had recently occurred earlier in the week that I made this image. Something must have spooked the pelicans and they had jettisoned their loads, so to speak, to obtain enough lift to evacuate the area. Talk about smelly! After publishing the images I received an email from a fisheries biologist up north who had been “rained on” by partially-digested remains from several pelicans lifting off over his work boat! I bet his wife sent him to the basement to get out of his work clothes that evening.

I’ve always liked this image because after you get past the interesting feeding lesson, you might also appreciate the surrounding ice water, ice on the pelican’s back and beautiful blue-gray bokeh. I also love the way the water has a metallic luster. I shot this image along the Mississippi River on an excruciatingly cold day. I was searching for mergansers when I ran into a pod of about 20 pelicans herding and eating huge Asian carp. The resulting series of images helped to fast forward my wildlife photography “avocation” with some paying photographs, including one of my first magazine covers here. Enjoy!

Canon EOS40D; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC II; 1/2000 sec @ f/6.3; ISO 200; RAW Capture; Aperture Priority; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II; Converted and Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)

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6 comments on “Ornery Breakfast!”

  1. Another amazing image, with so much learning in the text, for me! I never knew about the regurgitating behaviour, though I have watched other birds, like our Bee-eaters, regurgitating their food, it’s never been “jettisoned” 🙂 I am glad I have you to go out on bitterly cold days and get these images that I can sit comfortably at home and marvel over! You are one of the few bloggers who make me click on every link in the text. I must say, all this must take more time and effort than making the images themselves.

    Was there snow in Missouri this year? I didn’t hear much about it…but I do hope you enjoy the festive season!


    • Hi Deepa….Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful response. It is still warm here and no sign of snow on the horizon–pretty depressing. I’m happy to hear you continue to enjoy Nature Frames.

  2. Talk about a full Christmas feeling! Interesting story – I had no idea about most of it.

  3. That was awesome to see, and read about Danny. I had never seen a Pelican up close before, with a fish in its gullet. Very interesting store, and beautiful photo as well. Thanks for sharing.


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