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11 August 2017

Fight or flight: When Murray pelicans clash

A pelican is attacked by one of its own kind on the Murray River at Waikerie. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYS

TRANSLATED from Latin, the majestic Australian pelican’s scientific name of pelecanus conspicillatus suggests a creature that’s “watching” or “on the lookout”, but the bird on the left here wasn’t really paying attention when another aggressively arrived on the scene at Waikerie on the Murray.

Quietly paddling about with the river seemingly to itself just after dawn, Pelican One was suddenly stunned into flight by the snapping bill of Pelican Two, which had silently glided in to pounce.

Snap! The first bird launches an escape bid as the second attacks with its beak. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYS

Snap! The first bird launches an escape bid as the second attacks with its beak. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYSSource:The Advertiser

Large numbers of pelicans have been reported on the Murray, its lower lakes and the Coorong and the state Environment Department’s principal ecologist, Dr Dan Rogers, who has studied the magnificent waterbirds for decades, says they are probably on the move to coastal areas from inland Australia as they search for ideal conditions to feed and breed.

But he says how pelicans know where to go to find such environments remains “a really good question”.

Missed it by that much. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYS

Missed it by that much. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYSSource:The Advertiser

“Some people think they may pick up the low-frequency sounds of thunderstorms … others think that because they fly so high in the air, they can see a really long way,” he said.

Dr Rogers says pelicans can travel great distances and that chicks born on the Coorong, the nation’s largest regular breeding ground, may as adults travel as far as Papua New Guinea, or turn up on any waterway along the way.

It’s time to take off. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYS

It’s time to take off. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYSSource:Supplied

Although their ease of motion both in the air and on water suggests a peaceful disposition, attacks on others birds are not uncommon. Dr Rogers said pelicans generally work well together to trap fish and that squabbles between them may be provoked by young birds who “like teenagers” are out to make their mark.

No harm, no fowl. With only its pride hurt, the first bird moves on and leaves the Waikerie riverfront to its assailant. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYS

No harm, no fowl. With only its pride hurt, the first bird moves on and leaves the Waikerie riverfront to its assailant. Picture: BERNARD HUMPHREYSSource:The Advertiser

Originally published as Fight or flight: When Murray pelicans clash

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