Friday, February 7, 2014

Flight of the "Big Bird"

It was nearly 4 months ago now that Big Bird swam in from Lake Tanganyika and promptly waddled up our beach here to the astonishment of lunching guests.
There had been a big storm that day and he may have been sucked up into a large cumulonimbus storm cell and relocated on the lake. The nearest flock of  Great White pelicans is considered to be in Katavi national park around 150kms away as the crow flies.
 He was young but already large, maybe 3 months old then. He couldn't fish without his flock. This species doesn't dive for fish, instead they corral the fish co-operating with each other and then scoop the cornered prey into their large stretchy pouches below the bill. So we have been given permission from Tanapa, the park authority to feed him.
 We only recently worked out that he is a male due to the size and shape of his bill and the colour of his facial mask (pink). He was all brown when he arrived but the colours are really coming through now and his pouch, legs and face are changing to bright yellow and pink, the colour of the mature birds. The male is also larger and can grow to 12 or 15 kgs and have a wingspan of around 3.6m. Only the Wandering Albatross has a greater wingspan of around 3.8m. So this Great White boy of ours is amongst the largest flying birds on the planet, up there with the Marabou Stork and Andean Condor.
 He didn't fly for some weeks but with encouragement he got the idea. We aren't sure how much flying he may have already done before arriving here but he was pretty shaky in his next attempts on the beach. We would run up and down flapping our arms and simulating flight for him. He would look on curiously until one day he showed us how it was done! It was short and uncontrolled and we would look away when he was landing as he seemed to not distinguish between ground and air speed coming in way too fast and endangering our beach furniture.

The link below demonstrates some of his more advanced flying prowess. We are so proud of him and he is such a clever bird. He can FLY!

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