Get smart curated videos delivered to your inbox every week.      
The Kid Should See This

How Do Pelicans Survive Their Death-Defying Dives?

Unlike American White Pelicans, who scoop up fish at the water’s surface, California’s brown pelicans rocket down from the sky, plunging toward the ocean from as high as 65 feet. This episode of Deep Look explains how brown pelicans survive these death-defying dives.

A number of anatomical adaptions enable the bird to take these dives in stride. The shape of its bill is essential, reducing “hydrodynamic drag” — buckling forces, caused by the change from air to water — to almost zero. It’s something like the difference between slapping the water with your palm and chopping it, karate-style.

And while all birds have light, air-filled bones, pelican skeletons take it to an extreme. As they dive, they inflate special extra air sacs around their neck and belly, cushioning their impact and allowing them to float.

Even their celebrated pouches play a role. A famous limerick quips, “A remarkable bird is a pelican / Its beak can hold more than its belly can…” That beak is more than just a fishing net. It’s also a parachute that pops open underwater, helping to slow the bird down.

Read more about the brown pelican at KQED: Volunteer Brown Pelican Count Aims to Measure Recovery of Once-Endangered Birds.

Next, watch brown pelicans soar above a school of California devil rays as the rays perform flying somersaults through the air. Really.

Plus, another bird with gular skin: The Greater Sage-Grouse.

🌈 Watch these videos next...

Why do lice want to live in your hair?

Rion Nakaya

You’d Never Guess What an Acorn Woodpecker Eats – Deep Look

Rion Nakaya

The Hidden Perils of Permafrost – Deep Look

Rion Nakaya

How Do Sharks and Rays Use Electricity to Find Hidden Prey?

Rion Nakaya

What Gives the Morpho Butterfly Its Magnificent Blue? – Deep Look

Rion Nakaya

The Kingfisher hunts for fish on the River Shannon

Rion Nakaya

These Carnivorous Worms Catch Bugs by Mimicking the Night Sky

Rion Nakaya

The Crazy Cribs of Parasitic Wasps

Rion Nakaya

A green heron catches fish with some bread

Rion Nakaya