Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who can? Pelican can.

They look like pterodactyls, those crazy flying dinosaurs (yes I did check that I spelt pterodactyl correctly) and they ride waves better than most of us. Pelicans are incredible birds; their fossils have been found dating from as far back as 40 million years ago so they've had plenty of time to adapt to the twin arts of flying and fishing, and inbetween those they've become pretty good at riding waves. There are several reasons why you may have seen them speeding so elegantly along the wall of a clean, unbroken wave while other seabirds are flapping awkwardly out of the way. With a skeleton that contributes to only 10% of their total body weight and a higher than average number of secondary "flight" feathers they are well adapted to either glide to altitudes upwards of a kilometer or skim the surface of a wave. I'd always wondered how they managed to glide mere millimeters above the face of a wave without clipping a wing and splashing in. I was told that they have what can only be described as "fingers" at their wingtips, allowing them to make minute micro-adjustments to their trim, much as we surfers make tiny adjustments to our weight distribution and foot positioning whilst in motion.

Why do they ride waves? I've no idea, but I'd guess that it's purely for the enjoyment of it much as we do, as I can see no practical reason. Perhaps the updraught coming up the face of the wave provides them with more speed, perhaps they just plain dig the view as they race down the line.
If the link betwen the way surfers, animals and birds ride waves preens your feathers then check out "Way of the Bird", a beautiful illustrated childrens book that uses Andy Davis' iconic artwork to tell the story over the background of Andrew Kidmans wavescape photographs. A fantastic concept and an incredible book, whether it's aimed at grommets or not.
Top: Australian Pelican, Kiama, NSW.
Bottom: Crazy pelican symmetry and all the colours blue, Dunsborough, WA.

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