Pelican Language and Behavior

  • Head swaying (bird rests head back on shoulders and rotates beak in a yin-yang figure-8 pattern). This supposedly only happens on the nest. It means “hi honey!” or it’s a defense of the nest if done to non-mate.
  • Bowing (bird holds folded wings slightly out and rocks them forward at 1-second intervals, pointing beak down.) This supposedly only happens on the nest. It means “Please go away, this is my nest, and I won’t leave.”
  • Head turning (bird sweeps beak in a big horizontal arc from side to side, reaching almost all the way around to the back before changing direction.) This means “I’m ok, you’re ok.”
  • Upright (bird stands up tall, spreads wings, and stretches forward with slightly uplifted bill and pouch.) This means “indecision.”

Other gestures that don’t have a language component are the shake, tail wag, bill toss, wing flap, stretch, glottis exposure, and bill throw. Then there’s also the scratch, bill head-rub, preen, and bathe. Movement: Walk, fly, swim, and land. Attack: lunge forward with bill, snap bill. Escape: take off!

Bill throw is where the bill stretches straight up and points at the sky, stretching the pouch. It’s often done with the glottis exposure, where the bird stretches the pouch over the curved neck and exposes the glottis on the inside of the pouch.

Bill toss is the “rapid upward toss of the partly opened bill to approximately the horizontal. The gular pouch often contracts spasmodically during the movement.” It’s to dislodge dry stuff from the inside of the pouch. It’s like they’re trying to shake an insect out of the pouch or something like that.