The bill and pouch of pelicans play an important role in feeding. The bill is sensitive and this helps locate fish in murky water. It also has a hook at the end of the upper mandible, probably for gripping slippery food items. When food is caught, the pelican manipulates it in its bill until the prey typically has its head pointing down the pelican's throat. Then with a jerk of the head the pelican swallows the prey. The bill is delicately built. The lower jaw consists of two thin and weakly articulated bones from which the pouch hangs. When fully extended, the bill can hold up to 13 litres. The pouch does not function as a place to hold food for any length of time. Instead it serves as a short-term collecting organ. Pelicans plunge their bills into the water, using their pouches as nets. Once something is caught, a pelican draws its pouch to its breast. This empties the water and allows the bird to manoeuvre the prey into a swallowing position. The pouch can also serve as a net to catch food thrown by humans, and there are sightings of pelicans drinking by opening their bill to collect rainwater.
The Australian Pelican may feed alone, but more often feeds as a cooperative group. Sometimes these groups are quite large. One group numbered over 1,900 birds. A flock of pelicans works together, driving fish into a concentrated mass using their bills and sometimes by beating their wings. The fish are herded into shallow water or surrounded in ever decreasing circles.
Landing - 8Hx 18W
Shy - H9cm x L10cm