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.
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.
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!
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.
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.