Dwindling Fish Stocks Lead Pelicans to Eat Gannet Chicks


Photo by .curt. via Flickr CC

Gannets on the island of Malgas in South Africa are in a bit of a pinch. Usually they nest with one parent out fishing, while the other parent guards the chick. However, fewer fish to catch means both parents have to go hunting and leave the chick unguarded. This leaves an opportunity open for pelicans who have adopted a bizarre survival strategy. Rather than fly out to fish for themselves, they're gobbling up the unattended gannet chicks. And BBC film makers have caught the behavior on tape. BBC film makers have captured the behavior on film.

The pelicans-eating-birds thing isn't new. In 2006, a pelican at St. James Park in London was filmed gulping down a pigeon. When you're hungry and short on fish, it seems logical to go to the next best food source.

However for gannets, this is a bad sign. As BBC notes, entire gannet colonies are in danger of dying out. "The species breeds in just six places, of which one is Malgas island in South Africa. Due to people overfishing sardine and anchovies off the coast of Southern Africa, the population of gannets has dwindled... Great white pelicans, which can have a 3m wingspan, are starving too, and their hunger is driving them to eat their smaller gannet relatives." It's a daily attack for the gannet colonies.

The opportunistic pelicans may survive for awhile, supplementing their diet of what few fish are left with gannet chicks - and the chicks of various other bird species they share beach space with. But if the gannet populations die out, the pelicans are in danger again. One more piece of evidence that overfishing by humans has dramatic and devastating effects on other wildlife.

More on Bird Food Choices
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Tags: Birds | Fishing

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