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Webster 1913 notes the phrase pelican in her piety, but does not fully convey the strangeness of the heraldic pelican. In heraldry, a pelican is basically an eagle. Yup. It's got a beak like an eagle, the head of an eagle, and it's got an eagle's colours if you depict it proper, i.e. in its "natural" colours.

A pelican is always plucking at its breast with its beak to draw blood. This is called vulning itself (= wounding). Even when you can't see its breast, when the object depicted is just a pelican's head, its head is drawn back to vuln itself.

A pelican in her piety is a pelican vulning herself while sitting in a nest with her brood of baby birds drinking the blood she's letting flow for them.

In modern depictions the pelican may be more recognizably a pelican, but is still always in its peculiar attitudes.

The Australian Pelican, Pelecanus conspicillatus, is one of the largest and most attractive pelican species worldwide. They're found all across the continent, ranging inland to lakes that form after heavy rain, as well as all around the coastland from the far north to Tasmania. A particularly favoured hangout of east coast birds is the Sydney Fish Markets, where they sit regally on piers and attract food from tourists. They don't do anything as demeaning as begging for it, the way seagulls, pigeons, ducks and other such lowly individuals make much of their living in this day and age. They just sit there, huge, white, unruffled, in a particularly stately pose, until some hairy biped decides to pay homage with a fish.

They're extremely large birds, standing about three feet high. Including their 45cm bill, they're 1.8 meters long. Their wingspan is correspongingly vast. They get aloft from water by running along the surface with slow, powerful wingbeats. Once up, they glide with minimal effort. Pelicans have been seen soaring on thermals 3000m above the sea. Their wings are perpendicular to their bodies and completely rectangular, like those of most light aircraft, with the tips composed of long, black feathers. They curl their neck back in an 'S' shape and their enormous bill sits neatly on top, jutting forwards like some sort of radome. It may seem incongruous if you see one on the ground, but they're astonishingly aerodynamic. They can often be seen circling in groups of a dozen or so over Sydney Harbour.

The body is white, with slight fading to pale grey on the head, and a slight crest of longer feathers. The wings are mostly white, but with black tips and leading edges and a black band across oddly reminiscent of the bands on the wings of WWII German fighters. The tail is white below and black above. The beak is a pleasant pale pink, and the huge, webbed feet are pale blueish gray.

They're normally silent, but can make soft grunts around the nest and young. They breed year round, whenever there is water and food available.

Pelican, The, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake made his voyage around the world. He left Plymouth with four ships besides the "Pelican," Nov. 15, 1577, and completed the journey Sept. 15, 1580. The "Pelican" was the only ship he brought back with him, and it was for a long time carefully preserved by order of Queen Elizabeth. When finally broken up a chair was made from its timbers by John Davis, the Arctic navigator, which is now in the Bodleian Library.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

Pel"i*can (?), n. [F. p'elican, L. pelicanus, pelecanus, Gr. , , , the woodpecker, and also a water bird of the pelican kind, fr. to hew with an ax, akin to Skr. para&cced;u.] [Written also pelecan.]

1. Zool.

Any large webfooted bird of the genus of Pelecanus, of which about a dozen species are known. They have an enormous bill, to the lower edge of which is attached a pouch in which captured fishes are temporarily stored.

⇒ The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and the brown species (P. fuscus) are abundant on the Florida coast in winter, but breed about the lakes in the Rocky Mountains and British America.

2. Old Chem.

A retort or still having a curved tube or tubes leading back from the head to the body for continuous condensation and redistillation.

⇒ The principle is still employed in certain modern forms of distilling apparatus.

Frigate pelican Zool., the frigate bird. See under Frigate. -- Pelican fish Zool., deep-sea fish (Eurypharynx pelecanoides) of the order Lyomeri, remarkable for the enormous development of the jaws, which support a large gular pouch. -- Pelican flower Bot., the very large and curiously shaped blossom of a climbing plant (Aristolochia grandiflora) of the West Indies; also, the plant itself. -- Pelican ibis Zool., a large Asiatic wood ibis (Tantalus leucocephalus). The head and throat are destitute of feathers; the plumage is white, with the quills and the tail greenish black. -- Pelican in her piety (in heraldry and symbolical art), a representation of a pelican in the act of wounding her breast in order to nourish her young with her blood; -- a practice fabulously attributed to the bird, on account of which it was adopted as a symbol of the Redeemer, and of charity. -- Pelican's foot Zool., a marine gastropod shell of the genus Aporrhais, esp. Aporrhais pes-pelicani of Europe.


© Webster 1913.

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