The Pelican


The Pelican; A poem (limerick) by Dixon Lanier Merritt

Presented by Travel Quiz Weekly

The Pelican

The Pelican is one of the heaviest birds capable of flight. It is strangely proportioned with very short legs for the size of its body. Adults can weigh as much as 10 to 17 pounds (4.5-7.7 kg).

Because of their large bodies and short legs, these birds are far better swimmers than walkers. They have a wing span of 9 feet (2.8 meters).


Identification Tips:

* Length: 50 inches Wingspan: 110 inches
* Sexes similar
* Huge, white bird with black primaries and outer secondaries

a Pelican

Identify this bird

* Flies with neck tucked
* Does not plunge into water from the air, but feeds while swimming


* Long, orange bill with a pouch
* Short orange legs and feet

Pelicans are mostly white, except for black wing tips. Males and females are similar in appearance.

The bird’s large, bright orange bill makes this species easy to identify. During the breeding season, both male and female pelicans develop a 3 inch by 3 inch bump on the top of their large beak. This conspicuous growth, which evidently indicates the bird’s interest in breeding, is shed by the end of the breeding season.

The Pelican poem is as follows:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican. (or belly can)
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican. (or hell he can)

Is this one of those love/hate poems. Either you love it or hate it. Add your feelings about it to the poll below.

The Pelican

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Comment below about this poem and/or name the bird.


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  1. I cannot find a definitive answer to this….IS this an Ogden Nash poem or another author?

  2. Terri,

    From what I can tell the poem was written by Dixon Lanier Merritt. I double checked the first fourteen listings in a Google search of the first line of the limerick and of the 7 who mentioned the author all said it was Merritt.

    Here is one of the search results from
    Quote from the last paragraph of the article-
    “Despite attribution to Ogden Nash, the following was written around 1910 by Dixon Lanire Merritt, editor of Nashville’s paper The Tennessean:

    A wonderful bird is a pelican,
    His bill will hold more than his belican.
    He can take in his beak
    Food enough for a week;
    But I’m damned if I see how the helican.”


  3. Wow…thank you for taking this so seriously. Did not expect anyone to put so much effort into it. I really appreciate it.
    This has been one of my favorite poems since growing up in Florida and befriending quite a few pelicans!
    Thanks again!

  4. I also was born and raised in Florida and my Grandfather used to recite this at the dinner table. Brings back a lot of memories!!!

  5. I LOVE this, my daddy used to tell me this.
    He is gone,and I’m very happy to have located it. Thanks

  6. My daddy use to recite this to me when I was a child & I couldn’t remember all of the words. So, thank you for letting me have a little memory & laugh from a dad long gone.

  7. My grandmother who recently passed away at 103 yrs old used to recite this poem to “the adults only”. She was a retired English teacher and memorized many, many poems. Thanks for the wonderful memory as I had forgotten some of the words!

  8. My daddy also would recite this to me. He passed in 2007 and I am retiring to Florida. Everytime I see a Pelican, I will always think of him. When I was in the third grade we recited poems for credit. I will never forget reciting this poem and everyone loved it when I got to the line – “I don’t see how the helican!” I plan on framing the poem, a picture of the pelican in memory of my Father and hanging it in my den. What great memories!

  9. Since visiting Australia I really love pelicans. I am glad I am not the only one who loves this poem.

  10. First time I have ever heard this fantastic poem. It is hilarious. I will have to email this to family and friends this morning. I’m from out West so I will have to share this with all of us Westerners.

  11. This poem along with other great poetic works, some whimsical, some not, is forever enshrined on a stone tablet at Brookgreen Gardens on Pawley’s Island, SC. Brookgreen is a spectacular place with over 1300 sculptures throughout the huge live oaks, shrubery, flowers, pools and fountains. A week’s admission is only $10. I have no personal affiliation with Brookgreen. Just a fan of great natural beauty.

  12. I have always loved the poem, but one of your facts is wrong. I live off the gulf coast of Florida and often see pelicans diving into the water to catch fish. One of my biggest memories of pelicans was several years ago in the British Virgin Islands when we spent a morning watching and video taping a squadron of 4 or 5 pelicans circling the small bay in which we were anchored, and repeatedly diving into the water in unison to catch fish. It was quite a show.

    They are also terrible thieves and will steal fish from fishermen whenever they can.

    Bill Beadle

  13. On a trip to Fl in 1956 my great aunt Marion and uncle Ira sent me the very first piece of mail ever addressed to just me. It was a postcard picturing a pelican and the Pelican Poem.
    I kept the postcard for years because it had made me feel so special; don’t know what happend to postcard.
    Here’s the poem…….
    “A wonderful bird is the pelican,
    His bill will hold more than his belican.
    He can take in his beak
    Food enough for a week,
    But I’m damned if I see how the helican. (or hell he can)”

  14. This poem is one of my fav-o-rites
    I will shout if from the Mountain heights
    The Pelican is Great!
    My heart he elates!
    What a wonderful glorious sight!

  15. The author is my great-grandfather, whom we referred to as Grandaddy Merritt. His eldest daughter was my grandmother, and I have many fond memories of visiting him on his farm in Lebanon, Tennessee. Over the years, it has encouraged me to see how much this one poem has touched so many. Interestingly, it almost never got published. It was coming up on the deadline for his newspaper column. And as Dixon didn’t have anything else prepared, he reached in his desk and pulled out this limerick which he had written some time earlier. I don’t think he had any idea at the time that it would soon capture the imagination of so many around the world.

  16. I’ve heard the poem go what a wonderful bird is a pelican his beak can hold more than his belly can I wonder how the hell he can. I’m from the south

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