Monday, August 15, 2011

KI: Pelicans and Penguins

Our first night at Kangaroo Island was spent attending both a Pelican Feeding and a nighttime Little Penguin Walk.  The pelican feeding was really funny, because it’s just one guy, a bucket of fish, and a whole flock of hungry pelicans waiting for their evening handout.  The pelicans know when it’s free food time, which we all know is the best kind of food.  When we arrived, there were already a whole bunch of them just kind of loitering on the rocks, but as soon as people started sitting on the benches they immediately started climbing on to the platform.  Smart birds.  A fair number of seagulls started to assemble as well.

Here are a few pelican facts for you, since we know you’re wondering.  Pelicans look big, but only weigh about 6.5 kg. They have a wing span just over 2m. Unlike most water birds they don’t make any natural oil on their feathers to make them waterproof.  This means that when they are in the water, they go to great effort to keep their wings out of the water.  This is for two reasons, one- they’ll get cold, and two- they can’t fly with wet wings.  When they do dive (or try as they’re not very good at it) they have to stay on the ground and walk around with their wings spread until they dry.  We also learned more about their ribbony beak movement I tried to describe in an earlier post.  It is called bill ribboning (I was close!) and is used to attract potential mates during mating season.  The strange mating sound is made by filling their bottom bill with air and then vibrating it against their top bill.  So there you have it, mystery solved!

Laurel displayed her expert sneaking skills to get close for a photo-op.

Here is the aforementioned pelican-guy, complete with seagull on his head.

Alright, back to the pelican feeding.  We can’t remember his name so we will refer to the man that was feeding the pelicans as Food Man from here on out.  I’m pretty sure that’s how the pelicans thought of him too.  First Food Man raised some individual pieces of fish in the air to inspire, as he called it, “aerial combat.”  One seagull would swoop over and grab the fish, then try to fly off before the other seagulls (and maybe a pelican or two) swarmed him and made him drop it.  It was pretty funny.  The pelicans, however, were not pleased at this waste of perfectly good fish.

Finally, came the main event.  It was pretty unceremonious.  Food Man just took giant handfuls of fish and tossed them into the swarming mass of pelicans.  Chaos ensued.  Each pelican was out to get as much fish as possible, regardless of whether he could actually eat that much or not.  That bill holds A LOT of fish.  Several pelicans were lucky enough to get the lion’s share of a fish toss, and would have this giant bulge of fish in their neck.  They had no chance of swallowing it, so they would go into the water and drink to try to help them swallow.  This is what the other pelicans were waiting for.  Pelicans are very social birds, except when it’s food-time.  Then, all bets are off.  Several other pelicans would follow the first one into the water and try to force his head underwater, so he would have to cough up and lose the fish.  It’s a tough world out there.


Little penguins! I love them!

Before the penguin walk, they took us through a small aquarium, the highlight of which was the cuddlefish. I never knew this before, but cuddlefish are amazing! They communicate though color flashes on the skin- they can change their pigmentation and appearance at will. The blue stripes you can see on his side, were actually pulsing on and off.

This cuddlefish showed an intelligence we have never seen in a fish. When pelicans see a bunch of people gather at the harbor and know its food time, I'm not all that surprised. Birds are pretty smart. When a fish sees a bunch of people outside his tank, and knows he's about to be fed, I'm kind of impressed. This guy was hiding in the back of the tank, but as soon as the tour group came over he came right out to the front.

When they threw the fish in (poor fish) it immediately dived underneath a log to hide. The assistant tour guide behind me muttured, "That was a bad idea," and she ws not kidding. Mr. Cuddlefish just sauntered over, and then lightning fast shot some tentacles out and reeled the fish right in his mouth. It all happened in about three seconds. Fish in tank, puff of dirt and mud, no more fish.

Now, we couldn't actually show this, but this is crazy. Mr. Cuddlefish doesn't like scales, so he actually somehow scales the fish while its in his mouth and then casually spits the scales out like the seeds of a watermelon. Greg kind of wants a cuddlefish now.

The Little Penguin, previously known as the Fairy Penguin, is the smallest penguin in the world and the only one native to Australia.  It’s only about 8 inches high and weighs about 1.5 kg.  Its call sounds a lot like one is being strangled.  Those cries serve a good purpose though.  The penguin that is staying with its young will call out to let the other penguin out hunting for fish know where their burrow is.  Penguins have a very poor sense of navigation, and without the call to guide them they would have to spend several hours a night trying to smell their way home.

Now since its dark out, and these little guys are kind of shy, we didn't really get many good pictures, but here's the best of the lot.

1 comment:

  1. Sheesh - I want your lives! This looked like such a great trip. How was NZ? Can't wait to see the blog post.