Nature of Israel
“A funny old bird is a pelican. His beak can hold more than his belican. Food for a week, he can hold in his beak, but I don’t know how the helican.” Dixon Lanier Merritt
Funny old bird is the pelican. It dips its head in the water. Fills its enormous beak with water and fish. Then lifts its head up, opens its beak wide so that the water drains out and the pelican then feasts on the fish it caught. Sometimes, terns and gulls will circle above looking for an opportunity to steal a fish. Oh, and by the way, its beak can hold three gallons (eleven liters) of water, which is three times as much as the capacity of its stomach. So, it’s certainly true – its beak can hold more than its belly can!
Funny old bird is the pelican. Attached to the pelican’s beak is a giant pouch known as a gular. The pelican, along with all other birds can’t sweat to dissipate excess heat, nor can it pant, so it uses a process called gular-fluttering to keep cool on a hot day, of which there are very many in Israel. Pelicans vibrate their gular and when they do this, they rapidly pump air back and forth within their system, causing an efficient form of evaporative cooling.
Pelican migration takes place during spring and autumn (March to April, and October to November). Most years forty thousand or so pelicans fly over Israel, looking for shelter and food. They’re particularly fond of fish so are attracted to Israel’s lakes.
Pelicans are the largest birds that fly across Israel. They weigh about 8 to 10 kilograms and have a wingspan of up to 3 meters. In the autumn they travel from Europe to Africa where the winter climate is somewhat warmer than in Europe and in spring they travel in the opposite direction. They prefer to travel over land rather than over the sea – it’s safer for them, so Israel is on the flight path. And, of course, not being a kosher bird, it’s perfectly safe for the pelicans in Israel.
The hungry pelicans consume huge quantities of fish, which doesn’t make them popular with Israeli fishermen. So, tonnes of second grade live fish are deposited in designated lakes to feed the pelicans and keep them away from Israel’s best fishing locations. The pelicans are happy, and the fishermen are happy too, though I guess the fish aren’t that thrilled about this arrangement.
Good places to see the pelicans are at the Viker Lookout near Netanya as well as in the Hula Valley. Like other birds they have a sort of built-in GPS system and will follow the same route each year. So look upwards in spring and autumn, and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Funny old bird is the pelican.