Media > Blog

Flight Of The Pelican

In this article, guest blogger Greg Illes masterfully shares his keen observations of the incredibly deft way a pelican navigates the bumps and ripples of wind currents, turning them into a smooth, precision ride for the pelican. At Henderson’s Line-Up, we like to think of our SuperSteer line of products (bell cranks, sway bars, motion control units, Koni shocks and Safe-T-Plus steering control units, etc) as helping RV owners achieve “glide like” ride quality as their coach skillfully navigates rough or narrow roads, windy or harsh conditions. Enjoy the read and enjoy your ride…

RV travels take us to a diversity of places, sights, and sounds. There are so many special scenes to be found when RVing around the world. For me, Pelicans are one of the most unique. It’s mid-November, and the Brown Pelicans are everywhere along the California coast. This is just a small representation of course; these large birds populate virtually the entire range of North America and South America coastlines.

Pelicans are my favorite bird, I think largely because they are such a study in contrasts. At least one writer used the term “comically elegant”. Big and clumsy on land, they are grand ships-of-state in the air, and master aviators. The huge, ungainly beak and floppy gullet sack, almost ridiculously ugly with the bird standing on the ground, all settle back in regal pose on the body in flight, perfectly positioned for streamlined travel.

Pelicans are gregarious, and almost always seen in groups of a half-dozen to twenty or more. Their aviation skills are without peer, offering by far the most beautiful, and long-lasting, flight “performances”. Pelicans are big and heavy, and this means they have to be very efficient in flight. They accomplish this efficiency by finding every nuance of air current that works to their advantage. The most reliable areas are the rims of beach-side cliffs, and the lips of shoreline waves. These obstructions to the wind cause ripples and eddies in the air, and the pelicans masterfully maneuver along the unseen whorls. I’ve watched a large flight of birds gliding against the prevailing wind simply by making artful use of the up-drafts along a seaside bluff.

When they’re down on the water, they again glide in “ground effect”, that fabulous place where the air is compressed slightly under a wing and increases its lift significantly. These birds with seven-foot wingspans will glide no more than 10-15 inches above the water, zipping along at 30mph and finding every hint of wave-air-assistance along the way.

And when they’re on the attack for food, another transformation takes place. The smooth, graceful, streamlined traveling vessel suddenly upends itself, wings akimbo, and drops precipitously toward the water in a hurtling suicide dive. Just before impact, all the “stuff” sticking out folds quickly back, and the plummeting wad of bird becomes a lance-like missile. The beak and bird and now-sweptback wings enter the water with hardly a splash, and the unlucky fish beneath the surface finds itself instantaneously engulfed by the beak and sack.

Pelicans tend to be where and when you find them, but certainly the migration seasons in Spring and Fall will tend to be more productive. Coastlines with cliffs afford some of the closest opportunities, and it’s not unusual to get within 20 feet of these wild creatures on-the-fly. Just watch your step.

Pelicans can live for up to 25 years in the wild. It’s nice to know this, somehow lending substance to the sense of sagacity suggested by their resting countenance. An old, wise bird with perhaps something to teach us. Just an imaginary reality, but a fun one to contemplate.

I can, and will, watch these magicians for hours on end. They are truly a wondrous link to a wondrous world.