American White Pelicans showing their black wing tips. Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
American White Pelicans are big water birds with black wing tips and a very large bill with a pouch. During breeding season, the top of the bill sports a flat growth of the same orange color as the bill. American White Pelicans have a wingspan of 9 feet and stand about 4 feet tall. There are 7 species of Pelican world-wide and only two in the United States. Both American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans are are found in Orange County, California. Both visit in the Fall and Winter.
American White Pelican at Carr Park in Huntington Beach.
American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans are from the same family and look similar, but are very different in behavior and habitat. The smaller Brown Pelican has only a 6.5 foot wingspan. They do come together at Bolsa Chica and a few other places, but by and large you find Brown Pelicans in salt water, coastal environments and American White Pelicans in fresh water environments.
Fishing in a group. Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Although both eat fish, the fish in a completely different way. Brown Pelicans dive into the water, and American White Pelicans swim in unison until they find fish, herd them into a corner, and then all the pelicans stick their heads in the water at the same time. It is like synchronized swimming. I have seen a group of more than 50 individuals fish together like this. Believe me, it gets the attention of everyone there. It even attracts cormorants and other birds who hope to benefit by the fish herding skills of the American White Pelican.
Small group of American White Pelicans attempt to catch fish they have herded.
American White Pelicans have been known to fish at night--especially during breeding season. They can feel the fish in the water and are able to fish by touch. See articles in link section below for references.
Notice that the black wing tips are totally hidden when the bird is at rest.
Below is a picture of American White Pelicans taken at a small city park in Huntington Beach called Carr Park. It has a small lake that is stocked with fish. It was crowded with coots, mallards, and American Wigeons, but that did not stop this small group of wintering American White Pelicans from cruising the lake and fishing. See below.
American White Pelicans fishing at Carr Lake in Huntington Beach.
You may find American White Pelicans during winter in any lake stocked with fish. You will also find them at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in the deeper water and on occasion at the Upper Newport Bay in the deeper channels and in the deeper water. Though there were no reports at the Upper Newport Bay this year so far. You will also find them at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, and at Community Parks and regional parks such as Laguna Niguel Regional Park.
So the next time you are out bird watching near a body of water with lots of fish maybe you will be lucky enough to see the synchronized feeding of the American Pelican. It is a sight you will remember.
All About Birds: American White Pelican
Detailed page about the American White Pelican.
Bird Web: American White Pelicans
State of Washington site about birds. Here is their article on the American White Pelican.
Diel Foraging Behavior of American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) on Experimental Aquaculture Ponds
Staff publication from the Wildlife Damage Management, Internet Center for USDA National Wildlife Research Center at the University of Nebraska. About when and how American White Pelicans feed. Paper by Scott J. Werner from the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services.
NOCTURNAL FORAGING IN THE AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN
Scholarly article on nocturnal feeding by Canadians Blair F. McMahon and Roger M. Evans in Condor from 1992.
Chase Lake NWR--American White Pelican
Breeding area for American White Pelicans.
Montana Field Guide: American White Pelicans
Montana field guide with lots of information. American White Pelicans breed in Montana.
National Audubon Society: American White Pelican
Detailed article about the American White Pelican.
Ungainly Grace: The American White Pelican
Detailed set of articles and photographs from National Geographic. Very good information. Don't forget to click on the links on the left side of the page. It is a set of articles, not just one.
Don't forget to check out the my blog post on Brown Pelicans. And my blog post comparing American White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans Pelicans in Orange County.
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