Truly the White Pelican can be called a ‘flying fortress’ because of its size and weight. Now is the time to witness large flocks of ‘flying fortresses’ overhead. It’s migration time and the White Pelican is on its way to warmer wintering grounds, flying all the way from northern Canada to as far south as Central America.
This prominent traveler has a wingspan from eight to ten feet and weighs between eleven and twenty pounds. That’s a lot of engine power and a lot of cargo to carry. The short, strong legs and webbed feet of the Pelican propel them in water and aid their takeoff from the water surface. When aloft, these long-winged Pelicans are powerful fliers. The Pelicans fly in a V- formation. When they stop along the way to refuel, they look for large areas to accommodate sixty to a hundred birds.
White Pelicans are colony birds. They work together. When breeding there could be as many as 5,000 pairs ready to nest, hatch, and care for the young in one large area. The survival rate for the White Pelican is one hatchling out of three or four. This mortality rate each year is caused by loss of habitat, flooding, drought, predators, and human-related occurrences such as fishing gear entanglement, boating disturbance, pesticides, and poaching. When there is overfishing along the migration route, the breeding or wintering area, White Pelicans are forced to fly long distances to find food.
White Pelicans do not dive for food like Brown Pelicans. They catch it while swimming. Six to eight Pelicans will gather in the water in a horseshoe formation, then they dip their bills in unison, and create a circle of open pouches, ready to trap whatever fish they can find. They will consume three or four pounds of fish per day. Their pouch is a scoop. The Pelicans push their bills under water, the lower bill bows out, and creates a large pouch that fills with water and fish. This is an excellent way to catch food.
Brenda Rusnell has used color pencils to drawn the White Pelican. Brenda is an Art Class instructor for ICL. If you have questions about birds, or the Red Cliffs Audubon Field Trip "Cedar Valley Winter Raptors" on Saturday, November 13 (meet 8:00 at St. George BLM) - call 435 673-0996.