Pelican vs Cormorant! Okay, so a pelican and a cormorant may not ever battle each other, daydreams aside. But what if they did? First, let us compare and contrast.
Around Catalina Island we typically see the brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, one of only three pelican species found in the Western Hemisphere. The Brown Pelican is considered the smallest kind of pelican, weighing in at 8 to 10 lbs, but can have a wingspan of over 7.5 ft (for reference, Phil and Cullen are only about 6 feet tall)! This species has a very large bill (over a foot long) with a pouch at the bottom to drain water when it scoops its prey from the ocean. This pouch can hold over three times more than its stomach! It’s head is often white, or yellowish in color and they have red coloration under their throat, while they have brown plumage (that’s a code word for feathers) and are brown to black on their chest, legs and feet. When it hunts, the brown pelican soars above the ocean and dive-bombs its prey, snatching it with its bill. Rad. You’ve heard that saying “pelicans fly together,” right? Well, they do. You can see them gliding together, their wingtips almost touching, low over the water.
Cormorants are typically darker in color, and may appear completely black at first glance. They catch their prey not by dive-bombing, as the brown pelican does, but instead by slipping head first underwater and swimming with their feet to snag fish, eels and water snakes! They have been observed diving as deep as 150 feet to catch food! Talk about persistence. After a dive, cormorants can be seen resting ashore with their wings spread out in the sunlight so they may dry. Around Catalina Island we commonly see Brandt’s Cormorant, Phalacrocorax penicillatus, whose scientific name means “painter’s brush” in Latin for the plumes that appear on its neck during its breeding season. Brandt’s Cormorant only grows to about 4.6 lbs, with a 4 ft wingspan.
Alright, so what if they were to fight? The brown pelican has a distinct size advantage, weighing in at almost double that of our cormorant! Dropping the two birds in the ring for a one-on-one battle, the size, strength and bill size of the pelican would overpower the cormorant. Let’s not forget the pouch below the pelicans bill, which is probably big enough to hold an entire cormorant captive! Now remember that a cormorant can dive well below the surface of the ocean! So let’s crack open a scenario to play this thing out. We have pelicans soaring over the water and they spot a few cormorants paddling about below. The pelicans point their bills down and begin hurdling down towards the unsuspecting victims. The cormorants, spotting their nemesis, dive below the surface, leaving the pelicans to faceplant in nothing but water. Now it is the pelicans who must evade as the sleek cormorants can spring surprise attacks from the depths, likely scaring off the larger, more buoyant bird. Yep, my money’s on the cormorant.
For more information visit: http://www.nps.gov/chis/naturescience/brandts-cormorant.htm