American White Pelicans–Florida’s Snowbirds

It’s December in Florida and although the rest of the country lies under a blanket of pristine snow (or possibly freezing rain) not much is white here. There are exceptions. This is the time of the year when visitors from northern climes descend on our beaches, parks, and other tourist spots in an attempt to get warm. Natives call those wintry vacationers “Snow Birds”. On a recent visit to a local wetland, I spotted a different kind of snow bird.

Snow Birds, American White Pelicans

The pond was populated by a flock of American White Pelicans. In case you’re not familiar with these pelicans, the American White Pelican prefers inland freshwater lakes rather than ocean coastlines. During the warmer months of the year they can be found on the Northern Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. When temperatures drop, they fly south to California, Florida, and Central America. I am always excited to see the arrival of these beautiful birds.

Cruising and Feeding

Observing these communal birds is fascinating. I am used to watching Brown Pelicans dive for their dinner, but the American White Pelican feeds differently. They work together to herd fish and when feeding their heads rhythmically move up and down in concert, much like a synchronized field of oil derricks. Each time their heads emerge from the water at least a couple will point their beaks skyward while about 3 gallons of  water drains out. I have seen the dark outline of fish remaining in their semi-transparent pouches. Just look at this bulging pouch!

A Pouch Full

Large birds, the American White Pelican weighs 10-20 pounds and carries a wingspan of 8-10 feet, yet their flight is graceful and their water-landings smooth.

Smooth Landing

As with most wild birds, the American White Pelican has declined in numbers due to habitat encroachment. I for one would like to see Florida’s wetlands preserved so that our snow bird friends can continue to visit.

6 thoughts on “American White Pelicans–Florida’s Snowbirds

  1. I’ve seen plenty of “snow birds” of the human kind driving through New York the last couple of months. I bet you see a lot of license plates from Ontario and Quebec, Canada, down your way.

    I have never seen these pelicans before. Maybe I will in my travels west this weekend. Though looks like the smart ones are visiting you.

    Habitat destruction is the number one threat these days to wildlife since the ban of DDT and other pesticides back in the 70’s. I was hoping the economic slowdown would have made people see better ways to use our resources. Yet, I have witnessed even more destruction locally since late summer. Let’s hope we are smart enough to allow such beautiful creatures as the American White Pelican the same right to live as we give ourselves.

    Happy New Year, Karen! Excellent post and photos as we all have become accustomed to here.

    • Thank you, Scott, as always.

      The wetland that these birds have chosen to winter-over in is a mitigation piece of property next to an apartment development. Right now, there are Roseate Spoonbills and an assortment of migratory birds there. Unfortunately, people on ATVs enjoy racing and doing donuts there in the mud. I plan to approach the mayor’s office about protecting the area.

      Enjoy your trip west.

  2. I just returned home from SW Fla. to TN and I had the opportunity to see the white pelicans for the first time. I was amazed at the beauty of these birds. I took many pictures of them in flight and on the water in groups. They look like swans from a distance. I will look forward to going back to Charlotte Harbour next year in December to see these beautiful birds again.

  3. While boating, in late March 2012, on Lake Jessup, in Sanford,FL, we saw ONE WHITE PELICAN….at first we thought it was an albino pelican. Moments later, when it took flight, we saw the amazing wingspan with the black tips !!! Then we encountered the other 20 family members. What an awesome gift from God !!! We came to see alligators and were blessed with much, much more !!! Lake Jessup is truly a bird sanctuary….WORTH THE VISIT !!

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