Friday, July 11, 2008
The word "pelican" is an old English word, and it is probably related to the Greek word for axe:"pelekys." This is likely because of the shape of their beaks. Up close, I am always surprised by how the beaks are worn, how the layers of keratin shed, how the tip of the upper bill (the maxilla) is curved and sharp, and the entire anatomy of the beak reminds me most of a pair of tongs. I am most admiring of the elastic underpart of the beak -- the way it can hold fish, how it is thin and wrinkled, how the pelicans cool themselves by fluttering this thin skin.
I worked twice at the seabird pond yesterday; there are about 15 pelicans there; most of them are starved and weakened after flying over from Anacapa island. They are often covered with parasites: tiny brown lice that live in the feathers.