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Updated: 03/14/2014 08:06:22AM

Pelican briefs

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By Capt. Ralph Allen

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Residents of Southwest Florida tend to take them for granted, but few Florida creatures are as iconic as the brown pelican. Just about every tourist who visits the waterfront in Florida snaps at least a few photos of these odd-looking animals. Especially as the large birds sit on pilings, bob around in marinas, waddle awkwardly along piers or docks, or perform their famous crash-dives into the water in pursuit of their fishy prey.

Brown pelicans are probably best known for their dramatic fishing technique. They fly 10 to 30 feet off the water, scanning for small fish swimming near the surface. When a target is located, the birds fold their wings and roll over into a crash dive, plunging splashily into the water at high speed. Just as a pelican hits the water, it extends its neck and opens its bill, allowing the pouch beneath the bill to scoop up a significant volume of water which hopefully contains small fish. Surprisingly, the old rhyme quoted above is accurate.

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