Published: June 2006

Pelican Grace

Flying Wings

Ungainly Grace

The American White Pelican

By Mel White
Photograph by Klaus Nigge

Should we pity the poor young pelican?

The Ugly Duckling, after all, grew up to be a beautiful swan, while the baby pelican—surely among the homeliest creatures on Earth—can look forward only to becoming . . . an adult pelican. Whether this constitutes much of an improvement is debatable.

Consider some of the words used by writers from Audubon onward to describe the American white pelican: clumsy, awkward, ungainly, grotesque, and absurdly ridiculous. Even the authoritative and no-nonsense new series The Birds of North America temporarily abandons scientific detachment to call the pelican somewhat comic, as if it were a feathered basset hound.

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