A Pelican Pass Over

Birds have always been something of great importance to me and my family. My mother (of blessed memory) had an avid interesting in birdwatching  which you can read more about here. Of all the birds in the world, the one that means the most to me is the pelican.

My mom’s nickname for me was “pelican”. In 1985, my mom said that my middle initial “P” was not only for Philip but also for “Pelican”. My mom said I was like a pelican because the pelican is the only bird that can bite off more than it can chew and handle it.

The pelican is a weird and wonderful bird. Poet Dixon Lanier Merritt put it best with his famous words:

Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!

His beak holds more than his belican.

He takes in his beak

Food enough for a week.

But I’ll be darned if I know how the helican.

Not only does the pelican have special significance to me, this incredible bird has special significance to the State of Israel.

The Great White Pelican migrates from Eastern Europe and Asia to Southern Africa each year. Their migration route takes them through the Middle East and Israel. Throughout the 1900s coastal swamps and wetlands have been drained or dried out across the pelicans’ migration route in Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. This loss of water sources combined with other Middle Eastern countries encouraging pelicans to be shot has driven the more and more of the pelicans to avoid these countries and fly through Israel.

This might seem like a harmless animal fact, but if left to their own appetites these pelicans could over consume fish from local fisheries and breeding grounds. This could devastate the environment and destroy Israeli pisciculture. In order to prevent this from happening Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture stepped in with a program to feed the pelicans themselves. During the three-month period in the fall when the pelicans are migrating the birds are given meals 3-4 times a week at the Bahan Reservoir in the Mediterranean lowlands. Each year 200 tons of fish are eaten by the over 75,000 pelicans that stop in Israel. Once they feed, the Pelicans resume their journey southward.


The forward thinking of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture has helped protect the local ecosystem and fishing industry, but it had another benefit: the opportunity for incredible bird watching. Birders of all levels can enjoy the spectacle of tens of thousands of pelicans joining together for this feast of fish.

By feeding the pelicans the Israeli government has ensured that the birds get the food to sustain their migration, the local ecosystem remains vital, fish farmers can stay in business, and avian enthusiasts across the globe can enjoy spectacular sight. This is truly win, win, win, win. All in a day’s work for the persistent, precocious, and playful pelican.

Further Reading:

You can read more about Israel’s feeding of the pelicans here and here.

You can view the incredible sight of this pelican feeding frenzy yourself in this memorable videos: