(קָאִת, kaath'y Syriac, kaka; Arabic and Talmuds, kuk and kik; Sept. πελεκάν, Le 11:18; καταῤῥάκτης, De 14:17; στεναγμός, Psalm cii. 6; ὄρνεον, Isa 34:11; χαμαιλέων, Zep 2:14; Vulg. pelican, onoclratulus). Among the unclean birds mention is made of the kadth (Le 11:18; De 14:17). The suppliant Psalmist compares his condition to "a kadth in the wilderness" (Ps 102:6). As a mark of the desolation that was to come upon Edom, it is said that "the kadth and the bittern should possess it" (Isa 34:11). The same words are spoken of Nineveh (Zep 2:14). In these two last places the A.V. has "; cormorant" in the text, and "pelican" in the margin. The expression "pelican of the wilderness" has, with no good reason, been supposed by some to prove that the kadth cannot be denoted by this bird. Shaw (Trav. 2:303, 8vo ed.) says "the pelican must of necessity starve in the desert," as it is essentially a water bird. In answer to this objection, it will be enough to observe that the term midbar ("wilderness") is by no means restricted to barren sandy spots destitute of water. "The idea," says Prof. Stanley, "is that of a wide open space, with or without actual pasture; the country of the nomads, as distinguished from that of the agricultural and settled people" (Sin. and Pal. p. 486). As a matter of fact, however, the pelican, after having filled its pouch with fish and mollusks, often does retire miles inland away from water, to some spot where it consumes the contents of its pouch. Pelicans (Pelecanus onocrotalus) are often seen associated in large flocks; at other times single individuals may be observed sitting in lonely and pensive silence on the ledge of some rock a few feet above the surface of the water (see Kitto, Pict. Bib. on Psalm cii. 6). It is not quite clear what is the particular point in the nature or character of the pelican with which the Psalmist compares his pitiable condition. Some have supposed that it consists in the loud cry of the bird: compare "the voice of my sighing" (ver. 5). We are inclined to believe that reference is made to its general aspect as it sits in apparent melancholy mood, with its bill resting on its breast. Oedmann's opinion that the Pelicanis graculus, the shag cormorant (Verm. Samml. 3:57), and Bochart's, that the "bittern" is intended, are unsupported by any good evidence. Neither is there sufficient ground to infer from the above passage any peculiar capability in the genus to occupy remote solitudes; for they live on fish, and generally nestle in reedy abodes; and man, in all regions, equally desirous to possess food, water, and verdure, occupies the same localities for the same reasons. Perhaps the Psalmist refers to one isolated by circumstances from the usual haunts of these birds, and casually nestling among rocks, Where water, and consequently food, begins to fail in the dry season, as is commonly the case eastward of the Jordan — such a supposition offering an image of misery and desolation forcibly applicable to the context (see Thomson, Land and Book, 1:403). The best authorities are therefore in favor of the pelican being the bird denoted by kaath. The etymology of the name, from a word meaning "to vomit," leads also to the same conclusion, for it doubtless has reference to the habit which this bird has of pressing its under mandible against its breast, in order to assist it to disgorge the contents of its capacious pouch for its young. This is, with good reason, supposed to be the origin of the fable about the pelican feeding its young with its own blood, the red nail on the upper mandible serving to complete the delusion.
Pelicans are chiefly tropical birds, equal or superior in bulk to the common swan. They are partially gregarious; and though some always remain in their favorite subsolar regions. most of them migrate in the northern hemisphere with the northern spring, occupy Syria, the lakes and rivers of temperate Asia, and extend westward into Europe, up the Danube into Hungary, and northward to some rivers of Southern Russia. They ,likewise frequent salt-water marshes and the shallows of harbors, but seldom alight on the open sea, though they are said to dart down upon fish from a considerable height. Notwithstanding their perfect development of the natatorial structure, they are good flyers, and the form of their feet does not interfere with their perching on trees, in which habit they are somewhat peculiar among swimming birds. They are all remarkable for voracity. The skin which extends from the throat between the rami of the lower mandible is extensible, and this structure attains its highest point of development in the true pelicans, in which the distended pouch is capable of holding ten quarts of water. The use of this membrane is that of a reservoir for the temporary retention of the fishes that are captured; enabling the bird to dispose of the superfluous quantity for its own future consumption or for its sitting mate and young. The face of the pelican is naked; the bill, long, broad, and flat, is terminated by a strong, crooked, and crimson-colored nail, which, when fish is pressed out of the pouch, and the bird is at rest, is seen reposing upon the crop, and then may be fancied to represent an ensanguined spot. This, as above observed, may have occasioned the fabulous tale which represents the bird as wounding her own bared breast to revive its young brood; for that part of the bag which is visible then appears like a naked breast, all the feathers of the body being white or slightly tinged with rose color, except the great quills, which are black. The feet have all the toes united by broad membranes, and are of a nearly orange color. Pelecanus onocrotalus, the species here noticed, is the most widely spread of the genus, being supposed to be identical at the Cape of Good Hope and in India, as well as in Western Asia. It is very distinctly represented in ancient Egyptian paintings, where the birds are seen in numbers congregated among reeds, and the natives collecting basketfuls of their eggs. They still frequent the marshes of the Delta of the Nile. and the islands of the river high up the country, and resort to the lakes of Palestine, excepting the Dead Sea. The Pelecanus onocrotalus (common pelican) and the Pelecanus crispus are often observed in Palestine, Egypt, etc. Of the latter Mfr. Tristram noticed an immense flock swimming out to sea within sight of Mount Carmel (Ibis, 1:37).
PELICAN, in Christian symbolism. , A figure of this bird "vulning herself" — that is, feeding her young with her own blood — was common in old churches, the allusion being emblematic of our redemption through the sufferings of Christ. The pelican often surmounts the cross. A brass pelican was employed as a lectern prior to the use of the eagle. SEE EAGLE; SEE LECTERN.