American White Pelican – A Team Player
Posted by Greg on June 27, 2012
The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is a very large bird by any standard. It stands about 4 feet tall, can have a wing span of over 9 feet, and weighs between 10 and 30 pounds. It flies north during breeding season (as far as Northern Alberta, Canada) and winters south (as far as the Gulf of Mexico and Central America). In the continental United States, you can find American White Pelicans on lakes, streams, rivers and marshes from Minnesota, west to Northern California in the summer months, and in the Gulf Coast States and southern California in the winter months.
According to Nature Works (New Hampshire Public TV): “It is entirely white except for its black-edged wings that are visible when the American white pelican is in flight. It has a long neck, a long orange bill with an expandable pouch and short orange legs with big webbed feet. In breeding season, it has a light yellowish crest on the back of its head and a nuptial tubercle or fibrous plate on the upper part of its bill. The nuptial tubercle will fall off when mating season is over and the crest will turn gray. Young American white pelicans have grayish markings on their heads and backs.”
Other than shallow surface dives, the American White Pelican does not dive for its food like its cousin the Brown Pelican. He usually just dips his head into the water to scoop up his prey. Sometimes these pelicans fish cooperatively. Forming a semi circle, they splash with their feet and wings to drive the confused fish into shallow water where they can scoop them up. Sometimes they will form opposing lines, one side driving the fish to the waiting pelicans on the other side.
According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “The American White Pelican is a graceful flier, either singly, in flight formations, or soaring on thermals in flocks. They soar in different portions of thermals for different distances: wandering flights in lower portions of a thermal, commuting flights at middle heights, and cross-country flights in the upper reaches of thermal columns.”
No matter the beach or water’s edge you happen to be on, these magnificent birds are a real joy to watch.