We often associate pelicans with coastal regions and salty sea air, but one species of these fascinating birds, the American White Pelican, is a freshwater species found far from the coastline. These majestic birds have captivating behaviours and traits that truly set them apart.
The American White Pelican: An Overview
The American White Pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, is a sight to behold. With a wingspan that can reach over nine feet, they are only slightly smaller than the California Condor. Despite their size, these birds are elegant flyers, often seen soaring high in the sky on thermal updrafts.
A Distinctive Bill and a Unique Feeding Style
Unlike their coastal cousins, the Brown Pelicans, which dive bomb into the water to catch their prey, the American White Pelicans opt for a more collaborative approach. They fish in groups, herding fish into shallow water by forming a semi-circle and moving in unison. Using their large, pouched bills, they then scoop up the fish together. Interestingly, these pelicans have a large, flat “horn” on their bills during the breeding season, which disappears afterwards.
American White Pelicans are migratory birds. They spend their summers in the northern parts of North America, nesting on islands in freshwater lakes. In the winter, they head south, to the coastal areas of Central America and the Southern United States, where they can be seen resting and feeding in estuaries, marshes, and on beaches.
The Intriguing Dance of Courtship
Their courtship rituals are a fascinating spectacle. Males perform an enticing dance to attract females, which includes tossing their heads back and forth, puffing up their chests, and making deep, resonant calls. Once a female is interested, the pair will engage in a “bill-duelling” behaviour, which solidifies their bond.
A Symbol of Conservation Success
American White Pelicans faced severe declines during the 20th century due to habitat loss and the use of pesticides like DDT. However, thanks to concerted conservation efforts, their populations have rebounded in recent years, making them an inspiring success story.
The American White Pelican is an intriguing species with distinctive behaviours and captivating attributes. Their successful conservation story is a testament to the resilience of nature when given a chance, and their presence adds a touch of majesty to the landscapes they inhabit. So, the next time you spot one of these impressive birds, take a moment to appreciate the marvellous migrator that is the American White Pelican.