Pelicans Dive UPSIDE DOWN, While Keeping Heads RIGHT-SIDE UP!

Upside Down Pelicans

Brown Pelicans diving at high speeds UPSIDE DOWN to catch herring. Click to play video.

I first noticed this upside-down crashing into water while reviewing footage one frame at a time. During their high-speed dives, a fraction of a second before hitting the water, the 15 diving Brown Pelicans in this 10 second clip all twisted their bodies left to assume an upside-down position while maintaining their heads right-side up! The actual real time 10 second clip is shown at the end of the video. Another video at shows shows additional footage of the pelicans diving to catch fish at 40% actual speed.

Why would pelicans crash at high speed into the water back-first instead of belly-first? Why would they keep their heads right-side up, while flipping their bodies 180° on their backs before impact? Interestingly, all these birds rotated left when flipping over! Why didn’t they ever rotate right? After hours of web research, I don’t have all the answers. Here are my findings and some additional ideas. Perhaps you can help figure this out!

Pelicans are sometimes described as crashing ungracefully into the water while diving for fish. Perhaps the “ungraceful” high speed crash is purposeful! Researcher Sandy Scott states that “They utilize a fascinating fishing technique of diving into the water at high speeds, crashing into the water upside down hence stunning the fish near the surface, and then scooping them up in their pouch.”

If this is the case, why not crash belly first…unless perhaps the bony backside is more protected against the high speed impact. A person who autopsied a dead bird stated that “Brown pelicans, however, have a very nifty piece of flesh that helps them compensate for all that rough impact; as you can see, just underneath the skin, this bird looks like it’s wrapped in bubble-wrap or Saran wrap, and that’s exactly how it functions- it contains pockets of insulating air so crashing becomes a less jarring experience.”

Maybe hitting backside first results in less physical damage than would result from impact on the softer underbelly. Consider how a chicken is built with a bony back and a fleshy softer underside. If the structurally strong bony back of the pelicans is cushioned by a “bubble wrap” layer of air to cushion the blow, perhaps this helps explain why this evolutionary back flip has become standard operating procedure for the Brown Pelican.

It also makes sense to me that the bird would be more stable in the water after a dive if it had more bubble wrap on it’s back than its belly. Otherwise a high buoyancy belly might make the bird tend to float belly-up when it wants to be belly-down in the water. Perhaps a bird anatomist out there in Internet-land, who happens to read this, will provide us with some insight on this “bubble wrap” theory.

My step-daughter, Jessica, thinks that landing on its back this somehow provides an advantage in scooping up the fish. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have underwater footage of this event?

Sandy Scott believes it is because this maneuver protects the vital tracchea and esophagus organs which are located on the right side of the neck at

I have searched for anatomy pictures related to Brown Pelicans and couldn’t find any additional information to support this theory. If there is a wildlife veterinarian or bird pathologist out there who could confirm that the trachea and esophagus is actually located on the right side of the Brown Pelican’s neck, please let me know or post a comment.

The body rotation event happens so fast, once I started to see it in slowed down footage, I assumed that the head would also do a 180°. Only by looking frame by frame did it become obvious that the head didn’t flip along with the body. The orange-colored throat pouches made it easy to see that the heads remained in their original orientation throughout the dive.

Perhaps nature is following the adage that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” As long as the head works topside up, why flip it upside down? That’s the best I can do on this mystery.

If you would like to see some still images of the upside down behavior, check out the following links:

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Kamikaze Pelicans in SloMo

This slow motion video shows brown pelicans break-neck diving into schools of spawning herring in San Francisco Bay at Point Richmond, California.

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Dancing with MS

“A disability or chronic illness can be painful and discouraging, but it doesn’t have to limit your potential for joy and fulfillment.”

Julianne Blake, Ph.D. has specialized in overcoming physical symptoms, self-esteem challenges and those negative attitudes that can hold back those with chronic illness and disability.

Julianne was once a dancer, has been on stage as an actress and loves to write. She earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and practiced psychotherapy for many years, building self-esteem in teens and adults, working with women in relationship crisis, and specializing in self-healing for those encountering life-threatening illnesses, particularly cancer.

This video was filmed and edited back in 2008, using a standard definition video camera for a special project class I took as a film making student.

For more information about Dr. Julianne Blake, go to

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Salmon Spawning in Marin

Salmon spawning in Marin, CA. Click to play video.

Salmon spawning in Marin, CA. Click to play video.

Recent rains triggered the coho salmon spawning season. The female appears to be the fish on the lower right laying eggs in the gravel which are fertilized by the male behind her. At about 30 inches long, the salmon were in Lagunitas Creek near the Shafter bridge in Lagunitas, CA near Samuel P. Taylor State Park.

For more about the spawning fish, check out this Marin IJ article.

Another interesting fish-spawning activity in the SF Bay Area is the annual herring run as shown in these videos: Gulls Gone Wild and Catching Tons of Herring in the SF Bay.

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Great Horned Owls at Sunset

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl at sunset. Click to play video.

These Great Horned Owls watch helicopters, planes, and other flying objects at sunset. Sometimes I wonder if they enjoy sunsets for their beauty, or if they are just anticipating the night out. What do you think?

These owls were filmed at Miller-Knox Park in Richmond, CA.

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Creepy Spider at Crescent Moon


Spider at crescent moon.

I found this spider while hiking the trails in Miller Knox park at dusk. Click to play video.

Happy Halloween!
To see my slow motion video of a spider building its web click here.

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POT-Making with a USED TIRE!

Pot-making artist uses a wobbly old car tire to make hundreds of symmetrical clay pots in Nepal.

This Pot-making artist uses a wobbly old car tire to make hundreds of symmetrical clay pots in Nepal. Click to play video.

A rotating wobbly tire serves as a potters spinning wheel to make hundreds of symmetrical clay pots. The first part of this video is sped-up threefold, and the second part is shown at actual speed. Just one vigorous spin of the tire with a stick provides sufficient rotation to complete each pot. I filmed this amazing pot-maker artist in the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Nepal. The city is located in the Kathmandu Valley and is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its rich culture and ancient architecture.
At the end is a photo of a woman packing the freshly made pots in straw for firing the pots. In the foreground is a pile of ashes from previous fires.
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Crabs Look On as River Otter Catches and Decapitates Fish

River Otter catches a fish.

I was very lucky to get this footage of this River Otter diving and catching a fish in the wild. Click to play video.

The crabs were lucky! They didn’t get eaten and were probably able to pick up a few scraps of fish for themselves after the kill. Notice the crabs scurrying about in the rocks. By decapitating the fish, the otter ensures that it won’t get away.

Here are some interesting facts about river otters:

* In addition to eating fish, amphibians, turtles, molluscs, and crustaceans, they also eat birds.

* Unlike Sea Otters which are agile in water and clumsy on land, River Otters are agile on land as well as in the water.

* About 1/3 of the animals total length consists of its long tapered tail, as shown at the beginning of the video.

* They live in fresh and brackish water environments, and are able to tolerate some saltwater. The one in this video was in a tidal area where a freshwater creek fed into a saltwater estuary.

* They live an average of 21 years in captivity and can live as long as 25 years. In the wild, they normally live to be 8 – 9 years old.

* River Otters are very playful and have been seen playing games.

* River Otters populations appear to be having a resurgence in the San Francisco Bay area in recent years. They have been observed in many watersheds and have been sighted on popular beaches—such as these two at Tennessee Beach in Marin County

This otter was filmed at the Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, CA. at the Sir Francis Drake bridge over Schooner Creek. If you are wondering about the unusual “Historic Life-Saving Station Cemetery” sign near the bridge, and shown at the end of the video, go here.

If you want to learn more about river otters check out these references:

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WEIRD: Owl Shakes Head in Slow Motion

Great Horned Owl shakes head

This adolescent Great Horned Owl’s head-shaking behavior looks rather strange when captured at 1/60th of a second. It reminds me of a bird’s equivalent of bad hair. Click to play video.

The bird’s head seemed to have disappeared! It also reminded me of a bird’s equivalent of having a bad-hair day. I knew that owls can rotate their heads much as 270 degrees, but I didn’t expect to see this image while editing my series of videos on Great Horned Owls. I decided to slow down the footage to help demonstrate this effect. I slowed it down to 2% of normal speed in the slow motion portion of this video.

In the second part of the video, which plays at normal speed, you can see how fast owls can shake their heads. Since they cannot move their eyes, owls hve developed the uncanny ability to rotate their heads to see what is behind, and on either side, of them. I imagine that their neck muscles are very strong from this behavior, and may explain how they can rotate their heads so rapidly. Why this owl was rotating its head, I cannot say. Perhaps it caught a flea from the skunk it ate the night before, and was trying to shake it off.
Click to view Part 1 of this series of Great Horned Owl videos.

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Adolescent Owls Hold “Hands” & Prepare for a Night Out

Owls hold hands and prepare for a night out.

Adolescent Great Horned Owls holding hands.

This is Part I of a series of short videos I am making about a Great Horned Owl family that lives in my neighborhood. It documents 2 young Great Horned Owls having a hard time waking up after a hard-day’s sleep. Then it follows them as they gradually become very active and fierce as darkness falls.

These adolescent owls are probably about 4-5 months old at the time of filming. They are excellent flyers and I suspect that they are capable of catching prey.

One adult owl stays nearby, however, I have rarely seen the adult interact with the adolescents. I found skunk remains in an owl pellet below the roost of one of young owls. I don’t know if the skunk was caught by the youngster or given to it by the adult owl.

The owls frequently bob and circle their heads, often in a comical way! Naturalists believe that this behavior helps them to better judge the distance to objects of interest. You may have noticed the “horns” or “ear tufts” of feathers starting to sprout from the top of their heads. Although these tufts of feathers look like ears in adult owls, they are not. The rather large ears are actually located and hidden behind the flat disc area of feathers around their eyes.

Typically, in the field, size is used to tell a male from a female Great Horned Owl. Males weigh about 15% less than females. So, in the video, where the two young owls are “holding hands” I suspect that the larger one on the right is a female, and the other one its male sibling.

Of all North American owls, Great Horned Owls live the longest. The documented record is over 28 years! One of the most common causes of human related deaths of Great Horned Owls is getting blinded by headlights and subsequently hit by cars. Another cause of death is eating poisoned rodents that are easily captured by the owls. So, if you have a rodent problem, please use traps instead of poison to control them.

Another interesting fact about Great Horned Owls is that they don’t build their own nests. They take over other bird’s nests made by hawks, ospreys, crows, etc. or they may nest in the hollow of a tree or other protected structure. They mate and lay their eggs earlier than most birds, so they have an advantage of occupying other birds nests before the original nest-makers are ready to use them.

If you would like to learn more about these fascinating raptors, an excellent book is available at My website is at

Stay tuned for additional short videos about this interesting Great Horned Owl family. Subscribe to my channel for notification of new videos.

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