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Birds Of A Feather

As a child, my favorite bird was the pelican. In Ancient Egypt they symbolized protection in death and the afterlife. Read more on the pelican in history.

The pelican is one of my favorite animals

Kat Merrick's favorite birdAs a child living in the Keys we saw a lot of sea and wildlife. We spent many a day snorkeling, fishing and crawling around through the mangroves. One of my favorite animals was the pelican. They really are such wonderful creatures. On the dock where we fished there was a pelican that always hung out. He had lost a leg (which we assumed was due to getting caught in fishing nets – this happens a lot). She would come up right next to you on the dock and sit beside us, waiting for her share of the fish caught. She had such loving energy you could not help but love her. It really is no wonder that the pelican has been revered throughout history.

The pelican as a symbol in ancient times

Did you know that in ancient Egypt they are depicted as a protective symbol in death and the afterlife? We saw a lot of pelicans depicted in art and on the walls of tombs as we traveled through Egypt.

A side note that I love is that, in funerary text, they are a protective symbol against snakes. (Anyone that knows me knows how much I hate snakes.

  • The Murri people of Queensland have a myth which tells of a pelican that made a canoe during a flood in order to save drowning people.
  • The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped nature and often depicted pelicans in their art.
  • In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available.

As a result, the pelican came to symbolize the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist, and usurped the image of the lamb and the flag. A reference to this mythical characteristic is contained for example in the hymn by Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Adoro te devote” or “Humbly We Adore Thee,” where he describes Christ as the “loving divine pelican, able to provide nourishment from his breast.” A pelican feeding her young is depicted in an oval panel at the bottom of the title page of the first edition of the King James Bible (circa 1611).

More recent symbolism examples

There are tons of examples of symbolism, which characterize the pelican as a caring and self-sacrificing parent. The image became linked to the medieval religious feast of Corpus Christi and both Corpus Christi College, Cambridge feature pelicans on their coats of arms. The medical faculties of Charles University in Prague also have a pelican as their emblem. Elizabeth I of England had portraits and cameos made featuring the pelican with her young.

And pelicans still bring us joy today

Last night at the Harbor there were tons of pelicans in the air and water as the fishing boats returned. We sat for quite some time watching them and just enjoying the site of them diving into the water. It brought back a lot of memories of the Keys… and my amazing feathered fishing friend.

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