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PELICAN (קָאַת, H7684, pelican, except Ps 102:6 where RSV tr. vulture, marg. “meaning uncertain”; also tr. cormorant [q.v.]; the tr. pelican is of ancient origin [LXX and Vulg.] and is based on the assumption that the Heb. comes from a root meaning to vomit). Early writers stated (incorrectly) that pelicans fed mainly on shellfish and later brought back the shells, etc., as an owl produces “pellets.” The pelican, however, is one of many water birds that feed their young by regurgitation of partly digested food, taken by the young as they put their heads down the parents’ throats, so this alone is insufficient to identify it. The context of Psalm 102:6 makes the tr. “pelican,” impossible, for a pelican is a very specialized water bird, and Driver’s suggestion of owl is as likely as any (see Owl). Pelicans—mostly the white pelicans—are regular visitors to Pal., but the average person prob. never sees one, certainly not at close quarters, for they fly over as quickly as possible in flocks of several hundreds, using a sequence of thermals to mount high in the sky and glide N on almost fixed wings. Their only safe stopping place is in the Huleh valley (see Bird Migration). These birds are on their way from their winter haunts around the central African lakes to the breeding grounds in the estuaries of the Black Sea and other parts of central and eastern Europe. They are among the biggest flying birds, about five ft. long, and they fly with heads drawn back. They usually fish in groups, using their beak pouches as nets and scoops, but not for storage—in contrast to the American Brown Pelican that dives into the water after fish.


See under Bird Migration.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(qa’ath; Latin Pelecanus onocrotalus Septuagint reads pelekan, in Leviticus and Psalms, but has 3 other readings, that are rather confusing, in the other places)): Any bird of the genus Pelecanus. The Hebrew qi’ means "to vomit." The name was applied to the bird because it swallowed large quantities of fish and then disgorged them to its nestlings. In the performance of this act it pressed the large beak, in the white species, tipped with red, against the crop and slightly lifted the wings. In ancient times, people, seeing this, believed that the bird was puncturing its breast and feeding its young with its blood. From this idea arose the custom of using a pelican with lifted wings in heraldry or as a symbol of Christ and of charity. (See Fictitious Creatures in Art, 182-86, London, Chapman and Hall, 1906.) Palestine knew a white and a brownish-gray bird, both close to 6 ft. long and having over a 12 ft. sweep of wing. They lived around the Dead Sea, fished beside the Jordan and abounded in greatest numbers in the wildernesses of the Mediterranean shore. The brown pelicans were larger than the white. Each of them had a long beak, peculiar throat pouch and webbed feet. They built large nests, 5 and 6 ft. across, from dead twigs of bushes, and laid two or three eggs. The brown birds deposited a creamy-white egg with a rosy flush; the white, a white egg with bluish tints. The young were naked at first, then covered with down, and remained in the nest until full feathered and able to fly. This compelled the parent birds to feed them for a long time, and they carried such quantities of fish to a nest that the young could not consume all of them and many were dropped on the ground. The tropical sun soon made the location unbearable to mortals. Perching pelicans were the ugliest birds imaginable, but when their immense brown or white bodies swept in a 12 ft. spread across the land and over sea, they made an impressive picture. They are included, with good reason, in the list of abominations (see Le 11:18; De 14:17). They are next mentioned in Ps 102:6:

"I am like a pelican of the wilderness;

I am become as an owl of the waste places."

Here David from the depths of affliction likened himself to a pelican as it appears when it perches in the wilderness. See Isa 34:11: "But the pelican and the porcupine shall possess it; and the owl and the raven shall dwell therein: and he will stretch over it the line of confusion, and the plummet of emptiness." Here the bird is used to complete the picture of desolation that was to prevail after the destruction of Edom. The other reference concerns the destruction of Nineveh and is found in Ze 2:14: "And herds shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the pelican and the porcupine shall lodge in the capitals thereof; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he hath laid bare the cedar-work."

Gene Stratton-Porter

See also

  • Birds