Pelicans rule on Greek party island

Pelicans rule on Greek party island

I have become a pelican stalker.

I am on the Greek island of Mykonos, and the day before, in town, I came face-to-face with the island's mascot, a real-life pelican.

The bird was waddling through a narrow passageway when we met in the middle.

It wouldn't do to obstruct a pelican, especially when it's almost as tall as my five-year-old son, and its pointy beak is as long as my forearm and liable to be used as a weapon.

So I flattened myself against the wall and the creature padded past me, a troop of camera-toting tourists in its wake.

I would have joined the pelican paparazzi, but I was late for a lunch reservation and the food won out. Still, I rued the brief amount of time I got to gawk at the pelican and was determined to see it again.

Which is why I am now at seafood restaurant Nikos Taverna (tavernanikos.gr), where I hear the pelican turns up every day around noon for free fish.

The story behind how a pelican came to roam the island goes back to the 1950s, when a Mykonian fisherman found an injured great white pelican and nursed it back to health. The islanders adopted it and after it died in 1985, other pelicans moved in to fill the vacuum. There are now three of them here.

So I am seated at an outdoor table at Nikos, with one eye on the menu, and the other keeping a close watch for the bird, when I see staff hastily throwing a net over a display of fresh seafood on ice.

Then the pelican's head appears, bobbing above the tables in front of me as it makes its way to the entrance of the kitchen, which opens up to the street.

"Pelican!" I shriek and skip my way around the other tables - to join a crowd of onlookers already queueing up for a selfie with the creature.

The pelican is a reluctant celebrity. It allows people to take photos with it, but it also refuses to look at the camera because it's got its gaze fixed on the kitchen, waiting for someone to come out with fish.

A waiter stops briefly and strokes and talks to it, while an islander walks past, hugs it and kisses its head, but the pelican acknowledges neither.

If there were a speech bubble above the pelican's head, it might read: "The things I do for food."

Eventually, an employee emerges from the kitchen and slips several fish down the pelican's throat, and the creature, satisfied, flaps its massive wings several times in slow-mo, then pads away, abandoning its post as photography model, the queue of selfie-takers be damned.

I have by then spent about 45 minutes milling around the bird and finally go back to my order of sea urchin on the shell, seafood platter and home-style venison stew, all excellent, which makes visiting this restaurant a win-win situation.

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