Thursday, October 16, 2008
When four young pelicans decided to put on a performance of 'synchronised billing' it became a hard act to swallow.
The youngsters opened their bills together as a welcome downpour swept across the coast of New South Wales north of Sydney.
Perhaps they wanted to catch some water for a, well, non-rainy day.
In any case, bystanders watched in amazement as they showed off the height, depth and breadth of their pink bills.
Such displays have even given rise to a neat Australian rhyme: 'A peculiar bird is the pelican, Its beak can hold more than its belly can.'
In fact, a pelican's bill, known as its pouch, can hold no less than 13 litres of water.
'Pelicans love it when it rains,' says Miss Emma Bell, marine mammals keeper at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
'Whenever it rains you'll often see them putting their bills out to trap the water. They do it for their own enjoyment or just to cool them down in the summer months.'
Those bright, eye-catching bills are also used to attract the opposite sex during the breeding season.
Of course, there's another reason for opening those beaks wide - to catch food, which the birds can scoop up from the ocean.
And there's always the generous tourist who's around somewhere to throw them a piece of fish after buying lunch at a nearby fish and chip shop.
Hundreds of pelicans have made their home along the coast north of Sydney, where they are found at popular tourist spots as well as along rivers and estuaries.
But those large bills can also be a handicap at times.
They are likely to be caught by stray fishing lines or hooks - a great concern for conservationists who say that a line tangled around a bill can damage a bird's chances of feeding and breeding.