By Tonya Veal
Photo Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
What bird flops around on short orange legs and webbed feet, weighs 16 pounds and has a 9-foot wingspan?
The American white pelican may be awkward on land, but is a sight to behold when soaring through the air. This pelican is one of the largest North American birds.
American white pelicans are found near shallow lakes and marshes, bays and beaches. They like shallow water because they don’t dive for food. Some of their brown pelican cousins, found in coastal areas, dive for food.
A group of pelicans trick small fish into moving to shallow water so they can scoop them up in their mouths. A stretchy pouch on the underside of their bill allows them to gather large amounts of food. They eat small fish, crayfish and salamanders. These pelicans eat almost three pounds of food a day.
American white pelicans can be found in Canada, Mexico, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Utah.
Of all the areas in Utah, Gunnison Island is the most popular choice for nesting and breeding. There are many shallow bottomed fisheries near this island, making it a perfect nesting sight. Once baby pelicans are born, the adults bring recently digested food back up into their mouth pouch for the young birds to eat. So, having a nest close to a fishing area is a top priority.
American white pelicans are social birds. They communicate through a series of low groans, grunts and squawks. These pelicans tend to hang out in groups. They are often seen resting, roosting and sun bathing together. Whether they’re tricking fish, flying around or having a squawking contest, these birds act like one big pelican family.
In California, American white pelicans are protected by the Department of Fish and Game under a Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but they are not on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list of endangered species.
In November 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the brown pelican, that coastal-residing relative of the American white pelican, from the endangered list. Years of work by conservation organizations helped preserve nesting sites to make sure pelicans were thriving.
American white pelicans are fascinating birds. To find out more about this species of pelican, you can visit the following website links:
That’s a BIG BIRD!
This story about the American White Pelican is the second in a series of stories about big birds in America, which began with the story about Trumpeter Swans. Watch for new stories on the Whooping Crane and California Condor as well as an unusual big bird found in the United Kingdom and Europe, the Great Bustard.
Click here to read Trumpeter Swans -- Mates for Life