Before I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had not really paid much attention to white pelicans, or really any pelican for that matter. I mean, we lived in the ‘burbs. Most of my wildlife sightings outside some amazing backyard birds were voles, racoons, skunks, and on occasion snakes. Even after Becky and I had been in the PNW a year or so I hadn’t really seen the white pelicans. I did hear about them however. “The white pelicans are here! The white Pelicans are here!” was periodically splashed across Facebook and in messages, and their arrival in our area was and is enthusiastically anticipated each year.
Now this is not to say that I hadn’t seen groups of white birds I was assuming were pelicans every now and then, but that really doesn’t count since I had never gotten close enough to appreciate them (and of course seemed to NEVER had my camera with me when I saw them!). It was therefore surprising when Becky pulled off the road yesterday because she saw them closer to shore than usual, and she knew I DID have my camera with me. Not to be overly dramatic here, but these birds are GORGEOUS! I decided to get some shots, including a few artistic impressions to share, and in true Patrice fashion, I had to learn some interesting things about these amazing birds! Hope you enjoy!
- Pelicans are some of the heaviest flying birds you will find and can weigh from 6 pounds to a whopping 30+ pounds!
- Although they may look somewhat awkward, white pelicans are really quite graceful to watch. They often fly in v shaped formations and soar using thermal currents. Their wingspan is one of the largest in North America, reaching up to 10 feet, which is second only to the California Condor. They are quite social and are usually seen in large groups.
- Although you may think these birds have only white feathers, just wait until they fly or spread their wings. The beautiful black feathers are striking against the white background.
4. That pouch of theirs can hold up to three gallons of water (for reference, that’s about 24 pounds!). Contrary to popular thought, that pouch is not a storage container for fish however, as when a pelican grabs a bill full of water, they let the water flow out and then swallow their catch. By the way, pelicans have been known to eat more than just fish, including turtles, crustaceans, and even other small birds.
5. It’s a hard life for pelicans. Females usually lay two eggs per brood, but only one survives. The parents have to feed those babies until they can search for food themselves as part of the larger group (this takes several weeks), and that typically means providing about 150 pounds of food for each chick!
And finally, a couple of weird facts…
Pelicans are ‘mouth breathers’ LOL. Yup, according to multiple studies of these birds, the nasal holes you see on their beaks are not air holes, but are ”walled off” with glands to desalinate the water they ingest, so they predominately breathe through their mouths.
Lastly, if you think you see an American White Pelican with a horn, you did. The bird isn’t hurt, and doesn’t have a health issue. Every year when breeding season arrives, a yellow or light orange “horn” appears on the upper bills of both male and female sexually mature birds to signal that they are ready to breed. At some point after mating season these horns fall off and new ones reappear the following year.
And there you have it. A short course on what is now one of my favorite sights in the Pacific Northwest!