Big bird, small pond

A weird and wondrous bird was paddling the pond at Indian Riverside Park last Friday, an American White Pelican.

Brown Pelicans are abundant but White Pelicans are seen far less often. They are winter visitors to Florida and in this county usually hang around by Lake Okeechobee. This was the first time I’ve seen one out here by the coast. Maybe the west wind blew him here.

I went after him with my camera. First I had to navigate the White Ibises underfoot.

Also underfoot, a Muscovy duck.

I circled the whole pond, following the pelican, till he came back to near where I first saw him. He and a fisherman were considering each other.

He was dip fishing which is the way White Pelicans get their fish dinner, as opposed to the dramatic dive of the Brown Pelican.

A scoop of scooped up water and fish.

Then the pelican presses its bill against its chest to squeeze out the water, leaving only fish in there, ready for swallowing.

There is something a little swan-like about them, except those beaks… which are 12 to 15 inches long!

The American white pelican rivals the trumpeter swan, with a similar overall length, as the longest bird native to North America. Both very large and plump, it has an overall length of about 50–70 in (130–180 cm), courtesy of the huge beak which measures 11.3–15.2 in (290–390 mm) in males and 10.3–14.2 in (260–360 mm) in females. It has a wingspan of about 95–120 in (240–300 cm). The species also has the second largest average wingspan of any North American bird, after the California condor.

They usually weigh between 11 and 20 pounds. That’s a big bird.

White pelicans

New bird for the blog: American White Pelican!

We found a small group of them at the Port Mayaca lock and dam between Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Canal, in Martin County. It is a consistent winter location for these unusual birds.

American White Pelicans breed mainly on isolated islands in freshwater lakes or, in the northern Great Plains, on ephemeral islands in shallow wetlands.

And….

In the winter, they favor coastal bays, inlets, estuaries, and sloughs where they can forage in shallow water and rest on exposed spots like sandbars. 

There were two groups of White Pelicans at the dam last Saturday. This group was resting and preening on a sort of a sandbar.

Note the Snowy Egret on the left, for size. White Pelicans are one of the largest birds in North America, almost one-third bigger than Brown Pelicans.

Another small group of White Pelicans was dip fishing nearby. So different from the way Brown Pelicans dive.

On the water they dip their pouched bills to scoop up fish, or tip-up like an oversized dabbling duck. Sometimes, groups of pelicans work together to herd fish into the shallows for easy feeding.

Strange and lovely birds, wonderful to get a good look at them.

One man’s work to protect White Pelicans from plume hunters in the early 1900s led to the creation of the first U.S. National Wildlife Refuge at Pelican Island in Vero Beach. Read the story at Atlas Obscura: Pelican Island.