Pelicans routinely use a benign form of family abuse to train the growth of their super-light skeletons and air-sacs.

Prof. Mumblebard claims: Pelican chicks, like other altricial birds, beg vigorously from their parents to demonstrate their fitness to be fed. This is simply more conspicuous than in other birds because of the sheer size of pelicans.

Robin and the Honey Badger respond: Chicks of the Australian pelican, after and not before being fed, convulse in a mad rage, throwing themselves around for a minute and then collapsing to the ground, before snapping out of it – as if nothing had happened – and settling down to their normal snooze.  While parents of the African white pelican seize their half-grown chicks and shake them brutally like a terrier killing a rat, before feeding them. Later, as if to prove that this is not punishment, the workout becomes self-inflicted as the nearly-fledged chick of the African white pelican struggles to withdraw its head from its parent’s throat – an excruciating ritual to watch because the bill seems to jam, half-open, in the parent’s stomach and both individuals risk being flailed like rag-dolls. The violence of these fits seems at odds with the intricacy of the pelican body and the touchingly delicate use of the beak-tip to feed the newly-hatched chick. Pelicans are among the lightest of living birds for their bulk, and consequently their bones need to have particular resilience. The hectic experiences of pelican chicks may therefore be a method of strengthening their growing skeletons and membrane-bound air-sacs.

Please join us here at the Bio-edge with your own comments. In the discussion below we encourage links to any evidence supporting either Prof. Mumblebard or Robin and the Honey Badger. Illustrations are welcome but please cite all sources or we may be forced under copyright to delete your comment.


Featured image: Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) by JJ Harrison (Birds of Australia by John Harrison, CC BY-SA 4.0, Australian Pelican)