The white pelican is a large water bird that has broad wings, long neck, and a massive bill that gives its head a unique shape. It is one of the larger birds in flight, being larger than the bald eagle, but smaller than the California condor.
In terms of their coloring–adults are white but have black flight feathers that are only visible when they’re in flight. Their bill and legs are a yellow-orange color, and during mating season they may also grow a protrusion on their beak; in addition in the spring some may have an ornamental patch of yellow feathers on their chests.
The young are basically white, though they will have a variable amount of light black feathers on their head, neck, and back.
White pelicans can be cooperative hunters, where large groups may coordinate their swimming to drive fish towards the more shallow waters making it easier to scoop up the fish.
White pelicans act more like dabbling ducks when foraging–they dip their beaks in to the water to catch their meals and often upend (meaning their butts are sticking up in the air).
While pelicans prefer fish (namely minnows, carps, and suckers) they will also eat salamanders, tadpoles, and crayfish. Their diets fluctuate depending on the availability of fish; therefore in some areas they may eat more salamanders and crayfish at certain times of the year.
Pelicans can hunt both during the day and at night. They usually prefer hunting during the day throughout the winter, but during the summer they prefer hunting at night. This usually results in them catching larger fish.
In terms of their migration and location, they are either a resident or a medium range migratory bird.
They can be found year round in certain parts of Texas and along the Gulf Coast (very sparse pockets), but for the most part, they migrate to certain areas of Canada & the US for breeding. They spend their winters along the coasts, and migrate through a good portion of the central United States.
Therefore they are best spotted either on the water or soaring overhead–usually in large groups. I was fortunate to spot this lone white pelican migrating through on its way to probably the Gulf of Mexico.
They can also be spotted mixed in with groups of double-crested cormorants (both migrating and during the breeding season).
While the pelicans (in America) aren’t on any threatened or endangered species list–the group has always had a slightly contentious relationship with man. The main reason for this–the food source. Pelicans eat fish (for the most part), and there have always been fears that they would steal fish from fisherman, or possibly eat all the fish and there wouldn’t be any left to catch by humans.
So we do need to work on our relationship with these majestic birds–because when you upset one portion of a food web/chain–you end up causing a rippling effect that can cause who knows what type of dangers.
One goal will be trying to get a picture of a good number of white pelicans migrating together. I would also like to possibly get a picture of the creche–or the group formed by pelican chicks when they’re about 2-3 weeks old and leave the nest.
Have you been able to spot a white pelican in the wild?