Thursday, October 13, 2011

The American White Pelican

The American White Pelican
One of the largest birds in North America, the American White Pelican measures an average of 60 inches in length, and 107 inches in width.  Weighing in at around 16 pounds on average, the white pelicans have an impressive wingspan of 9 to 10 feet. 

Pelicans have a vertebra in their neck which prohibits them from ever raising their face.  The yellowish pouch connected to the lower mandible of their beak can stretch up to six inches and can hold three gallons of water!

The Mississippi River and its tributaries provide ideal habitat for the American White Pelican. Large flocks can be spotted on sandbars and small islands located within sloughs and backwaters such as Ellis Bay at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary which create foraging opportunities. The American white pelican can also be found near lakes, salt bays, marshes, and beaches throughout their migration.

Large flock of the American White Pelican feeding.
Pelicans are carnivorous. Their diet consists of fish and crustaceans. After a fish is caught, the bill is pointed downward allowing the water to drain. The bill is then raised and the bird swallows. When feeding, a group of pelicans work together by driving the fish ahead and plunging their bills in the water simultaneously.

The American White Pelicans winter on the Gulf Coast, California, and Mexico. During the spring they migrate to their summer nesting areas in the Great Plains and the Great Basin. The White Pelicans migrates February through March and October through November. The largest population of Pelicans can be found at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary during these months. However, it is not uncommon to see these flocks throughout the year.

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