Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pelican Update



In September, 2012, we blogged about the Fall migration numbers of the American White Pelican at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.   Let's take another look, two years later.  The following entries have been excerpted from the  Hagerman NWR Weekly Bird Census  by Jack Chiles, Master Naturalist:

2012
Sept. 4 - 0; Sept. 11 - 0; Sept. 18 - 0; Sept. 25 - 1000
Oct. 2 - 54; Oct. 9 - 10; Oct. 16 - 260; Oct. 23 - 25
Oct. 30 - 7
Nov. 6 - 127; Nov. 13 -300; Nov. 20 - 100; Nov. 27 - 25

2013
Sept. 3 - 3; Sept. 10 - 3; Sept. 17 - 4; Sept. 12 -24
Oct. 1 - 2080; Oct 8 & 15- shutdown/no census;  Oct. 22 - 1250; Oct. 29 - 1500
Nov. 5 - 75;Nov. 12 - 56; Nov. 19 - 50; Nov. 26 - 7



Thanks to Jack’s reports we have a picture of the swings in population of the American White Pelican at Hagerman NWR during the fall migration.  Pelicans were sighted circling overhead at HNWR last weekend, so the 2014 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 regularly  to maintain elasticity.  And during breeding season the pouch become brightly colored.

Pelican "Poucher-cize" by Eileen Sullivan
Pelican "Big Mouth" by Skip Hill

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!

1 comment:

  1. Big jump in Oct. 2013. I'm really curious about 2014.

    ReplyDelete