Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Does a Pelican's bill hold more than its belly can?

Photo taken 20th April of Doris, our female Pink-Backed Pelican showing the remarkable bright pink inner lining of Gular - a particularly vibrant colour during the Spring breeding season.

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week.
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can!

Many people think Ogden Nash composed that famous limerick, but apparently he didn't. It was written in 1910 by Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879-1972), a Southern US newspaper editor and president of the American Press Humorists Association.
Then there's the following parody, by that world-famous, prolific writer, Anon:

A wonderful bird is a Pelican,
Whose beak can hold more than his belly can.
Be it crabs, clams, or fish,
It will hold all you wish.
But I'm damned if I see how the hell he can.

On a slightly more scientific note (!): The Pink-backed Pelican (Pelecanus rufescens) uses its distendable throat pouch (called a gular) as a fishing net, scooping fish and crustaceans from the water as it swims. When it opens its bill underwater, the sudden inflow of water carries the prey in with it. Then the pelican raises its head to drain out the water before swallowing its prey. When they have chicks the youngsters feed by plunging their heads deep into the adult’s pouch and taking the partially digested regurgitated fish.


  1. I fully support the goal of species protection and conservation and believe that recovery and ultimately delisting of species should be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's top priority under ESA, this will result a good and successful property investment figures.

  2. Dear Keeper,
    A strange request, but I am trying to seek copyright advice on Merritt's limerick to use in a tv programme. In America they say that anything published prior to 1923 is in the public domain but I'm not sure if this applies to the UK. Any advice you can share with me would be greatly received. I'm on emmab@jdp.co.uk
    Much appreciated