Thursday, September 20, 2012

American White Pelicans

The following entries are excerpted from the  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge Weekly Bird Census Highlights for 2011, by Jack Chiles:
  • September 20, 2011

About 300 American White Pelicans on the lake visible from Wildlife Drive.
  • September 27, 2011

2 American White Pelicans on shore of lake
  • October 4, 2011

3000 or so American White Pelicans in the shallows of the lake at least 1/2 mile north of the tip of Plover pad.
  • October 11, 2011

The American White Pelicans are still here in good numbers.
  • October 18, 2011

…Pelicans and American Avocets still hanging around.

  • October 25, 2011

300 American White Pelicans … on the lake.

  • November 1, 2011

2000+ American White Pelicans.
  •  November 8, 2011

250 American White Pelicans.

  • November 15, 2011

Just 1 American White Pelican.

Thanks to Jack’s report we have a picture of the swings in population of the American White Pelican at Hagerman NWR during the fall migration.  Pelicans were sighted and photographed at HNWR last weekend, so the 2012 fall migration is now underway.

American White Pelican, by Dick Malnory
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) breed in the Northern Plains and in Canada, according to Lives of North American Birds, by Kenn Kaufman, and winter along the  California and US Gulf of Mexico coasts.  Their large size (wingspan is 9’) and distinctive bill make them easy to recognize and the subject of cartoons and parodies such as this one by Dixon Lanier Merritt:

               “A wonderful bird is the pelican, His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
               He can hold in his beak
               Enough food for a week.
               I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!”

That famous bill has some interesting characteristics.  It allows for catching and storing fish and is sufficiently sensitive that the birds can locate fish at night by touch.  The bill allows water to be drained before the fish is swallowed.  According to The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, pelicans exercise the pouch to maintain elasticity.  And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.

Pelican "Poucher-cize" by Eileen Sullivan

Another interesting aspect of the American White Pelican is their coordinated fishing.  They can be seen swimming in one or more lines, “herding” fish into the shallows for an easy catch.  Most often found in fresh water, they eat primarily fish and crayfish.

Be sure to visit the Refuge this fall to see the American White Pelican!

You can purchase a copy of the HNWR Weekly Bird Census Highlights for 2011 in the Friends of Hagerman Nature Nook at the Refuge.

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