Bird of a different feather

A vagrant Great White Pelican with a few Spot-billed Pelicans at Perumbakkam in Chennai.— Photo: special arrangement  

Last December at Pallikaranai, while watching a flock of Spot-billed Pelicans through a pair of binoculars, birdwatcher K.V.R.K. Thirunaranan noticed a bird that was clearly a pelican but had features that distinguished it from the rest of the flock. Pulling out his camera, he took quick pictures of the flock. Later, studying the images and referring to field guides, he realised he had chanced upon a Great White Pelican.

It was a freak sighting, for Great White Pelicans are not ‘supposed’ to show up here. They are sighted in huge numbers at the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. This individual bird had to be a vagrant, having strayed far out of its range. Mr. Thirunaranan and his group of birdwatchers sighted the bird many times in December and January at various places in and around the Pallikaranai marsh, including the Perumbakkam wetland. In June this year, the vagrant crossed Mr. Thirunaranan’s binoculars once again. And on many consecutive days in July, birdwatchers have sighted the bird at the Perumbakkam wetland.

There are two interesting things about this vagrant Great White Pelican. One, it seems to be absolutely at home flying, roosting and feeding with flocks of Spot-billed Pelicans. Two, it has extended its sojourn beyond expectations.

“A vagrant bird may stay out of its range during its migratory period. Given this, the Great White Pelican should have left our wetlands by March or April. It’s July but the bird is still around,” says Mr. Thirunanranan.

According to R. Nagarajan from the Zoology and Wildlife Department, AVC College of Engineering, Mayiladuthurai, two theories could account for its behaviour, “One, a bird that displays such an unusual vagrant behaviour may be too immature to breed. Two, destruction of habitats can also lead to extended periods of vagrancy,” says Mr. Nagarajan.

On what makes the Spot-billed Pelicans share their space with this vagrant without so much as a squawk, P. Jeganathan, scientist at Nature Conservation Foundation, says: “Pelicans are gregarious birds and big community feeders. Considering the Great White Pelicans share many features with them, Spot-billed Pelicans must not have any problem taking one into their fold.”

A lone Great White Pelican sighted amongst

a flock of Spot-billed Pelicans piques the curiosity of birdwatchers.

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 12:31:57 PM |

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