Friday, September 15, 2006

Pelecanus occidentalis

Brown pelican
The brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird
In a week that Jurisdynamics has spent pondering how law should respond to disasters (over and over), it is only fitting that this forum's weekly taxonomic spotlight be aimed at Pelecanus occidentalis.

The brown pelican is Louisiana's state bird. As the only nonwhite pelican species, the brown pelican is readily distinguished from its relatives. In the annals of American environmental policy, the brown pelican figured prominently among birds whose eggshells were rendered precariously thin by DDT. Like any other good flagship species, the brown pelican's beauty and romance drew public attention to a threat to biodiversity and spurred a meaningful political response.

Pious pelican
The self-sacrificing pelican
In a state that now symbolizes senseless human loss to natural disaster, in the only state whose basic unit of local government is named after the ecclesiastical paroisse rather than the secular comté, an official pelican of any sort nicely fills the bill. (Apologies for the awful pun; recompense is offered in the form of a geography student's interesting observations regarding the pelican's remarkable beak.)

In medieval times the pelican epitomized self-sacrifice:
[T]he pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican became a symbol of the Passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist. It also became a symbol in bestiaries for self-sacrifice, and was used in heraldry ("a pelican in her piety" or "a pelican vulning (wounding) herself"). Another version of this is that the Pelican used to kill its young and then resurrect them with its blood, this being analogous to the sacrifice of Jesus.
This is the blood of the new covenant, shed for you. Drink ye all of it. So understood, the pelican, both as the medieval symbol of sacrifice and the modern symbol of loss and recovery, provides a powerful rebuke of the idea that God wants you to be rich, a vile notion rightly confronted and rejected by First Movers, the Jurisdynamic Network's new forum for young scholars. The pelican, more properly understood, quite appropriately symbolizes sacrifice and rebirth. Louisiana -- and the rest of us -- should be so fortunate to be graced by so fine an emblem.


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