Introduction

These are the pelicans of Victor Harbor on the south coast of South Australia.

Victor Harbor www.tourismvictorharbor.com.au is famous for its fairy penguin population, not pelicans.
But I happen to love the pelicans which live near my house. They are a small colony of about 11, sometimes 14, and they roost on large exposed rocks near the boat ramp in the shelter of Encounter Bay. Of course this is an opportunistic location.
 

The pelicans live in hope that the fishermen will share their catch with them. The pelicans greet the incoming boats and do their best pelican manoeuvres, swimming in formations and looking appealing. The fishermen rarely take any notice.

Pelicans are better fishers than humans.
 They skim and dip for their food and tend to eat smaller fish. They also are collaborative fishers which use their formation swimming to herd fish into shallow water where they are easy prey.
Aussie pelicans can't dive. They are too big.

They challenge rival birds for prey, too. Spectacularly, I have seen a pelican chase a white bellied sea eagle in hope of forcing it to drop its catch. Similarly they will chase Pacific Gulls and, in fact, any bird which is trying to carry a really interesting find.

Encounter Bay is an unusual place. Most of the bay is shallow and set on an ancient glacial reef much of which is exposed at low tide. It is rich in seagrass which makes it a wonderful nursery for fish. It is also home to the beautiful and endangered leafy and weedy seadragons.
www.austmus.gov.au/fishes/students/focus/seadrag.htm


The only way to tell male pelicans from females is by size. Otherwise, they seem identical. They do, however, have distinctive characters and a definite hierarchy.
There are several very assertive pelicans in our pod and others who hold back. The dominant pelicans are very pushy.
Pelicans may fish together but they do not share.


Pelican in distress
Nothing seemed to be wrong. Pelicans often fish alone. But on this occasion, two other pelicans from the pod flew down the beach, circled over a lone pelican member of their pod and landed beside it. They then preceded to "escort" the third pelican back to the roosting rocks - about half a kilometer down the beach. They flanked the single bird and swam very slowly. It looked as if two parent birds were supervising a recalcitrant young one as they made their steady course down the coast. But it became apparent that something was wrong with the central bird. It was holding its beak very close to its chest and occasionally raising its head as if to swallow. With binoculars we noticed that its beak was shuddering and then we observed a protruberance in the back section of the beak.

Walking down to the roosting rocks, we were able to see that something was wedged transversely in the rear section of the beak and the bird was quite distressed. But it was never alone. Always one or both the escorting birds was close to it. As if keeping it company and providing support. We found it very touching.
We went home and called the Parks & Wildlife ranger who arrived promptly. But in that short time, the ailing pelican had vanished. We can only assume, since it seemed unable to fly, that it must somehow have liberated the foreign object. At least that is our fervent hope.

The ranger did not support our theory that the two birds had been taking care of a pod-member which could not fly and was in distress. He said they were just hoping the distressed bird may reguritate and give them an easy feed.