Ask the Naturalist: Do Pelicans Carry their Babies in their Pouches?

January 9, 2015

I am a first grade teacher whose students have become fascinated with pelicans after reading Jim Arnoski’s Pelican is Hungry. My students asked if pelicans ever carry their babies in their large bills since alligators will sometimes carry their young in their mouths. I told them I did not know, but would try to find out. I have not been able to find the answer to their question. Can you be of any help? – Mary Steele, Florida

A: Good question, Mary! Pelicans do not carry their young in the pouch — it’s strictly a tool for allowing them to plunge-dive and hold fish until swallowed (once water is pushed out of it by the act of closing their beak).  Also, pelicans will use their bills to carry sticks to the nest site and to arrange the sticks into a nest, as well as feeding their young by opening their bills and regurgitating food for the babies.
— Barbara Callahan, Interim Director, International Bird Rescue

International Bird Rescue has been saving seabirds and other aquatic birds around the world since 1971. IBR cares for over 5,000 birds every year at their two centers in Northern and Southern California, and has led oiled wildlife rescue efforts in over 200 oil spills in more than a dozen countries. Visit IBR’s website here.

About the Author

Eric Simons is a former digital editor at Bay Nature. He is author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans and Darwin Slept Here, and is coauthor, with Tessa Hill, of At Every Depth: Our Growing Knowledge of the Changing Oceans.

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