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17 May, 2024
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The Super Scoopers

The Super Scoopers!!!!- Article by Gareth Jones

The Super Scoopers Of The Nairobi National Park

Over many years, I have noted that most of us are still in “City mode” when we enter a national park, and would like to see as much of the created wonders as possible. Our challenge is to quickly snap out of “City mode” into “Bush mode”. It is interesting and relaxing at times to watch the many bird species, especially when finding a dam and, simply, waiting at the water. When we relax and wait at the water, then wildlife becomes a very different experience as species start to behave naturally. This can be a very rewarding experience as we never know what species might be seen and enjoyed.

Early one morning, while sitting quietly and relaxing at the Athi dam, whilst watching various bird species and animals coming to drink, a pelican suddenly landed near us. The pelican then proceeded to use its large beak and pouch to find fish in the shallows around the dam. Having such a large beak and pouch is definitely a big advantage, perhaps it can be called a kind of “super scoop”. I always find it fascinating how God has designed so many creatures with very particular or even peculiar methods of
catching their next meal. Then the pelican suddenly seemingly decided that the “super scoop” success ratio in that section of the Athi dam shoreline was not worth the effort. So the pelican rather ungracefully took-off in front of us and landed a short distance away to continue looking for fishy snacks.

Pelicans are a genus of large water birds that makes up the family Pelecanidae. There are 8 known different species of pelicans worldwide, with 2 species seasonally visiting the Nairobi National Park, namely the great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) and the smaller pink-backed pelican (Pelecanus rufescens). I have personally seen both species of pelicans on a number of occasions in the park. Mostly seen at the Athi dam, Embakasi dam, Hyena dam and Naglemon dam, although they could be at any water source where food is plentiful.

Pelicans live throughout the world in tropic and temperate zones, and always near bodies of water. Their average life span is about 10 to 25 years in the wild and more than 50 years in captivity. It is easy to identify pelicans, because they are one of the only birds with a pouch under their bill. Some people mistakenly believe that the pelican actually stores fish & food in its large gular pouch. This belief is incorrect, the gular pouch is used like a kind of net-trap to catch prey, before draining off the water and swallowing the prey whole. Along with the giant gular pouch, pelicans are large birds with short legs, and they appear rather clumsy on land. Once in the water, they are strong swimmers, thanks to their webbed feet. The heaviest is great white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) weighing from 9 to 15 kilograms. Their wingspan can range from 2 to 3.6 meters, depending on the species. Pelicans are splendid fliers and can soar like eagles with their giant wings.

Getting up in the air can be challenging without the help of the wind. Pelicans must run over the water while beating their big wings and pounding the surface of the water with both feet in unison to get enough speed for takeoff. They are social birds and typically travel in flocks, often strung out in a line. Pelicans are carnivores (meat-eaters) and diurnal (hunt during the day). While most pelicans eat fish exclusively, they can be opportunistic feeders, eating  lizards, frogs, crabs and lobsters and even other birds on occasion. Many pelicans fish by swimming in cooperative groups. They may form a line or a “U” shape and drive fish into shallow water by beating their wings on the surface. When fish congregate in the shallows, the pelicans simply scoop them up.

I hope that your time waiting at the water will be restful and be like a “soul tonic”. I believe that God has also created nature for mankind to observe and relax in when we escape for a short while from the craziness of the city ways of this world we live in. So why not plan your next visit to the Nairobi National Park to include some “waiting at the water” moments. You never know, you might also enjoy seeing some pelicans and then hopefully see them using their large beak and pouch combination to be “super scoopers”!!!


The Super Scoopers
Gareth Jones – A passionate writer & photographer