An old house sparrow. – Al Batt
An old house sparrow. – Al Batt

Archived Story

Pelican poetry from Silverstein, Lear and Merritt

Published 9:00am Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nature’s World by Al Batt

My neighbor Crandall stops by.

“How are you doing?” I ask.

“Everything is nearly copacetic. My memory’s not as sharp as it used to be. Also, my memory’s not as sharp as it used to be. I’ve been tapping the maple trees. I do it the easy way. I dress up like a pancake and stand by a tree until it coughs up the sap. It’s good exercise. I don’t like normal exercise programs. If God had wanted me to be in an exercise class, he would have put the jelly doughnuts on the floor. Speaking of food, I don’t think that new Chinese restaurant is very authentic, but the burritos are very good. I went there with Weasel and Still Bill. Between them, they have nearly an entire brain, but friends are important in case you need to move a piano one day. Weasel has made being a knucklehead a lifestyle choice. Weasel needed to go to town to get some eating tobacco for his father. His old man is 97. That stuff will kill him one day. Still Bill is lazy enough for three men. He had a job off the farm once. He was fired. His boss did nothing but stand around and watch others work, but he couldn’t do less than Still Bill. His boss became angry because people started thinking that Still Bill was the boss.”


Pelican poetry

I love seeing pelicans with their

9-foot wingspan flying overhead.

Maybe that is what inspired the poets.

Shel Silverstein in “Every Thing On It” wrote, “Miz’ Pelican said she loved me, and to show how much she cared, she let me set inside her beak and took me flyin’ everywhere. But then below she spied a fish and dove – and let me fall – cr-unch, as she whispered, ‘Love is grand, but lunch, my dear, is lunch.’”

Edward Lear had this to say, “King and queen of the pelicans we; no other birds so grand we see! None but we have feet like fins! With lovely leathery throats and chins! Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee! We think no birds so happy as we! Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill! We think so then, and we thought so still!”

Shel Silverstein penned “The Pelican” that goes like this, “Pickin’ big fish from the seas the pelican can do with ease, but pickin’ up a tiny ant is something that a pelicant.”

And lastly, Dixon Lanier Merritt wrote this famous bit of verse, “A wonderful bird is the pelican. His beak can hold more than his belly can. He can hold in his beak enough food for a week! But I’ll be darned if I know how the hellican?”


A deer eagle

Pat Postma of Papillion, Neb., told me that her good friend Julie Milota, also of Papillion, was driving home some years ago, when she hit a deer with her car. The next morning, Julie and Pat went searching for the deer, fearing that it might have been only injured. They found the deer not far from the road. A bald eagle was feeding on the carcass. Bald eagles love venison. It was the first bald eagle Julie and Pat had ever seen.


Q and A

“How long do hummingbirds live?” Male ruby-throated hummingbirds live about two to three years. Females live around three to five.

Doris Callahan of Albert Lea asked how she could discourage red squirrels in her yard. My wife has conspiracy theories involving red squirrels. She thinks they control both gas and corn prices. The red squirrel is tiny but aggressive. There are live traps and commercial sprays, but I don’t know that either is an effective deterrent. You could try shutting down your bird-feeding station for a short time in the hopes that the squirrel would move on.

Doris Callahan also asked how to keep the water clean in a birdbath. Place the birdbath in the shade, if possible, to keep the water cooler and fresher. Nearby trees provide branches on which the birds could preen. Clean sand or gravel on the bottom, while not necessary, provides secure footing. Arrange stones in the water for birds to stand on while drinking. This is important during freezing weather to keep the birds from getting wet. The water should be no deeper than half to 1 inch at the edges, sloping to a maximum of 2 inches deep in the middle of the bath. It’s important to change the water every day or two. Birds leave dirty feathers and droppings behind, creating unsanitary water for other birds. Grackles can mess up the water by dropping their nestlings’ fecal sacs into it. Algae grows quickly when the water isn’t cleaned frequently. If algae starts to grow, clean the birdbath thoroughly with a stiff scrub brush and a nine to one water-bleach solution.

“What is the world’s smallest bird?” A bird that flies with 80 wing beats per second, the bee hummingbird, found in Cuba, measures a little more than 2 inches, counting bill and tail, and weighs about 2 grams — roughly the equivalent of two dimes. The largest of all hummingbirds (the giant hummingbird) weighs about 10 times as much.

“Is lawn grass is the biggest crop

in the U.S.?” Last year, there were 95 million acres of corn, 76 million acres of soybeans and 56 million acres of wheat. Lawns cover about 30 to 40 million acres.

“How big is a hummingbird nest?” If a quarter fits completely inside the nest, it’s probably not a ruby-throated hummingbird nest. It’s too big. Hummingbirds use lichens and spider webs to construct the tiny nest. The spider webs allow the nest to expand as the babies grow. The ideal nest site is about 25 feet high on a down-sloping branch of a deciduous tree located near water.


Thanks for stopping by

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Lou Holtz

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson


Do good.


Al Batt of Hartland is a member of the Albert Lea Audubon Society. Email him at