When Slimbridge opened its doors to the pelicans in the summer of 2017, there was a great buzz surrounding these distinctive water birds with their famed beaks and giant wings. There’s no bird quite like the pelican and as our trainer Selina Reid is finding out, their personalities are just as quirky as their looks!
However although we have almost everything covered here, there’s still one essential matter that must be dealt with. Our pelican pair still need to be named! To help us find names that correctly fit the bill, we’ve invited local schoolchildren to put forward their best ideas. The winning suggestions, picked by Selina, will be announced later this summer.
Despite sharing pelican status, our new residents have very different characters. The hand-reared female is bold, curious and confident around humans while the male, parent-reared on an island in Longleat, is much more wary. Selina has been working hard to gain his trust.
Thankfully, we all have a weakness and this hungry male bird’s is fish! He will happily follow Selina’s signs to enter and leave the water knowing full well he’s in for a tasty reward.
The female, on the other hand, has taken to training like a pelican to water. She follows Selina’s cues with ease and has even learnt to strike a pose, standing tall with her impressive beak pointing straight up to the sky, when she sees the relevant hand signal.
Selina has until next summer to prepare these clever birds to feel at ease during live displays in front of 300 people at the Living Wetland Theatre. By then, we hope that the birds will be able to follow cues, ignore the audience and be confident enough not to flee if spooked.
This is why desensitisation plays such an important part of their development. They are encouraged to experience every weather condition in different environments so they can exhibit trained behaviours anywhere, without the risk of rain or a crying child in the audience startling them.
Selina works with the birds twice a day using food to entice them to carry out simple cues. Unlike the magpie geese who enjoy toys and a tickle, the pelicans will only respond to edible rewards and so only react when they’re hungry. This means that there are only so many opportunities our trainer has to practice with them. Not that this phases Selina, who has years of experience working with all kinds of species across the animal kingdom. She is confident that these clever birds will be ready for bigger audiences later this year.
It’s a real privilege to count pelicans amongst our resident birds at Slimbridge. We can’t wait to see these magnificent animals (with names) in action!