Pelican platoon. A study of Animal Behavior
“Saddle up boys” said Pedro, Time for another bombing run. I am a student of management, and animal behavior: they are pretty much the same thing.
Today I study pelicans in Mexico’s Jalisco State, on La Manzanilla’s beach protected by the flapping blue umbrella.
Imagining the pelicans as pilots let me introduce you, the pelicans: Diablo, Timoteo, Pedro, Antonio, Aldolfo, Angel and Lupe. Pelicans loafing, discussing the mission.
Briefings complete, ‘Saddles up boys’ I imagine Pedro, the platoon commander say.
Pelicans take off into the wind. (Of course they do, pilots know this – so do pelicans.) Pelicans are the HERCULES aircraft, or Vietnam-era WARTHOGS, the flying work horses, and rotary winged gunships of birds–powerful, flexible.
The stiff breeze means a short runway, powerful wings and webbed feet straining to gain speed and altitude. Powerful strokes gain enough altitude to circle back around.
Targets are selected.
Banking left, tails to the wind, Aldolfo drops in the wind’s shear, pumping pelican wings increasing speed to recover altitude, staying aloft, gaining. The others pump hard avoiding shear.
The platoon follows, left again, counterclockwise back out over the sea. Timoteo takes takes the lead, others fall-in formation. Pelican platoon trades altitude for speed, pushing into a stall. Timoteo is first. His beak drops like a gun Barrell focusing on the target. He draws a bead on a shimmering fish near the surface, Wings fold in half, the rest of him follows the gun barrel dropping on the target like smart bombs.
They are smart bombs. Pelicans.
Now Pedro, wings folding tighter making small directional adjustments tracking the target with laser focused accuracy and precision. Sploosh! He nails it with a splash.
The remaining airborne platoon circles again, one by one, gaining altitude. Antonio is out front. He folds and tucks wings slamming into the sparkling pacific, disappearing instantly in a white splash of salty foam. A split second later the gunship surfaces, looking like a pelican- a wriggling, thrashing pelican, jerking and gulping fresh fish.
Each one in turn circles, stroking hard to stay airborne, trading speed for altitude. I see each one follow the same process. Basic pelican training: gain altitude, select a target, focus, hold, point, drop, execute, eat. First Diablo, then Angel, followed by Lupe. I see expert navigators, pilots, hunters and fishermen, with wings and impressive beaks: Pelicans.
Antonio banks steep, hard right, breaking away from the platoon pumping hard. He spots a fresh target, locks his gun barrel beak and drops like an inverted rocket. He nails it again.
Pedro orders the platoon in the air again, circling up. They cruise for targets. One by one they lock on, lock up, rocket down, devouring targets.
Multiple missions, successfully executed; impressive as military maneuvers.
I think about the pelicans point of view. When I gargle with salt water for a sore throat, sometimes I gag. I wonder what it is like, being a pelican. The pelican is gargling with warm salt water, with a wriggling fish stuck in its throat, with a vertical violent jerk of his gun-barrel beak, the wriggling stops, throat clears. Lunch served.
Pedro locks and loads for a fresh dive.
He finishes the wriggling, rests a minute, hits the full throttle again into the wind, lift off, circle, repeat, eat.
I imagine these guys at the end of the day, eased back in rickety beach chairs, sand drying on their webbed feet. Coals of tangled beach wood fire glowing red as the melon sized fireball of a sun slips below the horizon. Pedro takes a long draw on his robusto hand rolled Mexican cigar as long as his beak. It is sticking out the left side of his beakmouth with an inch of ash beyond the orange glowing circle, readying to drop its ash at his webbed feet. Him chuckling at Antonio now into his second stiff smokey Mescal in that short Mexican hand blown glass with a blue rim. A glass that sweats, full of ice. Lupe cracks a joke (in Spanish) and the other pelicans chortle, easing back further and lower in their chairs.
Aldolfo jumps, twitching in his chair, he startles when his beak drops. He nodded off, warmed by the glowing coals, bone and beak tired from a long day of airtime, and frequent bombing.
Diablo eases out of his chair waddles to the wood pile and heaves another twisted log on the fire. Sparks swirl, a vortex skyward reminding me of sitting by my fire, in the Rocky Mountains.
‘Another good day, boys; another good day,’ said Pedro.
It is a great study: wonderful to be a student.