There is something magical happening right now on the central coast. I’m talking about the show Mother Nature is putting on via the pelicans that are hanging out along our coastline.
Over the years I have observed they arrive right around tax time…a beautiful sign that summer is just around the corner. They seem to me like old friends who come to visit for summer fun, and they spark in me a sense of play. If there is activity at sea, they will be out. If there is a gathering for sunset, they seem to enjoy a pass or two to check out the action. And if they whales are migrating, they will seize the opportunity for a little feeding frenzy.
While there is little information out there about baby pelicans in training, the past few years I have noticed August seems to be a great month to catch the antics. The first time I noticed it was in San Simeon. when I was watching a flock of pelicans apparently enjoying an evening feast just offshore. I thought the anchovies must be running or something to prompt the activity, not only by pelicans, but seagulls as well. Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed it wasn’t seagulls mixed in with the big-billed pelicans, but young pelicans. Furthermore, it didn’t appear any of the larger birds where actually catching anything, but training their young-in’s how to feed.
I was mesmerized. The larger birds would fly a pattern and all the little ones would soon follow. But instead of hitting the water at full speed, they would begin their descent, then kind of panic just as the surface grew close, throw out their brakes (wings) and paddle their feet as if to say “Whoa, whoa, WHOOOOAAA! Could I be seeing what I thought? Was I watching a pelican training school? It was so adorable and amusing.
According to Boston University, while birds are born with the instinct to fly, they need a little help honing their skills. Just as humans are born with the instinct to walk, parents help toddlers along, often with one parent holding the child and encouraging them to step forward while another parent stands a short distance away with their arms open ready to reward them and offer a sense of safety.
“Similar to humans, birds are born with this same instinct, mainly for the action of flight. No bird is born with the ability to fly because it takes practice. Rather birds are trained by their parents through the power of reinforcement.” -Nature VS Nurture/How do birds learn how to fly-Boston University
So this practice is happening right now off beaches and bluffs up and down the central coast. Look closely…those smaller birds flying along side the larger pelicans are not likely seagulls. Watch as they practice flying in formation, cruising coastal wind patterns and diving for food. It’s quite entertaining and frankly can trap me for hours as easily as Facebook or a good Netflix series.
I’m no expert in on birds. This is by observation only and some very crude research on-line, so I welcome anyone to offer up anything more they know about it. All I know is it’s magical.
So find some time one late afternoon or evening and park yourself wherever you see Pelicans gather. (Although I’ve seen them do it at all times of day, it does seem they come out to “play” as the sun starts to sink into the afternoon sky.) I suggest the marina in Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, Dinasour Caves Park, Avila Beach/Port San Luis, Morro Bay, Cayucos, or San Simeon. All work. Then get ready to watch the show.