Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

Florida is not only an extraordinary state surrounded by beautiful coastal waters; it’s a state where many birds travel to get away from those harsh northern winters or to raise their young to become strong and healthy.

While thousands of birds will be traveling to and even through Florida for their winter migration, there is one particular bird that recently caught my eye in the sky-  the American White Pelican.

Many American White pelicans may spend most of their time in the United States’ northwestern areas and part of Canada’s western regions; even though it is stated that the American White pelicans migrate to Florida, some, according to observations documented, are year-round residents.

Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

On November 4, I took my husband’s niece on a nature adventure. Our project was to document how many birds we saw. It was a neat little project for her to get her out of her daily indoor routine and habits to be somewhat outside, discovering the wonders of nature. 

We stopped at Jenkins Creek Fishing Pier in Hernando County. As I looked up, I saw a patch formation of white spots and black streaks. I had no idea what species of birds I was looking at until I got my binoculars. There, flying high in the sky, were American White Pelicans. Their entire body is covered with white feathers, except for a lower band of black wing feathers. It’s good to have binoculars when viewing in flight because Wood Stork’s have the same feather pattern.

Remiges are feathers on the backside (posterior) of birds’ wings. Primaries are the long and pointed tipped feathers, and secondaries are smaller and have a rounded tip.

Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

To be honest, I have never seen so many pelicans in the sky before. There must have been over a hundred, and it was quite a sight to see. We continued our birding observation project at Bayport, and again another flock of white pelicans flew above us. 

While watching this amazing natural and instinctive behavior these birds perform, a question of curiosity enters my brain. Which bird knows to lead the flock? 

It’s a question that’s asked quite often, and I am sure I have asked this question many times myself but never had a reason to pursue the answer. Well, now, I do. 

First, let me start by saying that I am not a ‘techy or advanced vocabulary’ type of learner and certainly not a ‘techy or advanced vocabulary’ type of writer. I am one of those who thrive on gaining fundamental knowledge and finding different and simple ways to write from it.  

A great rule I follow is from my mom – “Keep it Simple.”

Migration

What is migration? In simple terms; A location that several species of birds fly to breed or reside to during seasonal changes other than their common location. 

An excellent example of a bird that migrates to Florida is the Swallow-tailed Kite. I do feel that more people are becoming interested in their amazing journey to Florida. These beautiful raptors spend their winter months in Brazil’s lowlands, and some Swallow-tailed Kites migrate to Florida every spring to breed. They’ll fly thousands and thousands of miles over water to reach Florida. It’s an amazing instinctive behavior and a nail-biter for those that follow their journey. 

Types of Movement 

There are three types of avian movement

  • Migration: regular or seasonal movement away from and back to their breeding grounds
  • Dispersal: certain bird species will leave the area where they were raised to find an area of their own breeding site
  • Philopatry: the likelihood to return to the same nesting site every year

This information gets confusing and hard to follow if you are not an avid birder, but there are websites to refer to and see what birds are in Florida during seasonal changes. Those links are below.Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

Flight Formation; So Who Leads The Flock

This research is probably the most challenging type of research any ornithologist or even citizen scientist can conduct. I would imagine that researchers would have to follow a flock of hundreds to thousands of different bird species for years, to even determine who and why a specific bird takes the lead. 

If we were thinking about this in a more hypothetical situation, it would be the elders leading the flock. They have been on this migration route for years stemming from their parents and passed on from generation to generation. Some may become leaders as some may be better-suited as followers or look-outs. Some even may stay towards the end of the formation to keep a watchful eye on the juveniles in their first migration flight.

According to some research, leaders change during flight migration. Basically, to give the leader a break. Those birds following behind the leader and those birds following behind them use less energy during long flight migration by catching the up-wash (air current)from the bird’s wing movement. It gets a little complex after this. I will leave some links at the end of this article for further reading.AMH_1940

The American White pelican is a beautiful seabird. They have developed quite an impressive anatomy, especially the use of its gular pouch. 

The gular pouch is a skin that expands when the pelican swims underwater. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service (https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/AWPE.pdf), American White pelicans do not dive like the Brown pelicans. While underwater, the gular pouch acts as a type of fishing net to scoop up any fish. Once a fish is caught in its pouch, the water is squeezed out, and the pelican swallows the fish.AMH_3044Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

The American White pelican has these amazing eyes that look like the purest of snow. So intriguing and somewhat dramatic. Another dramatic observation if you notice that some adults may grow these horned-like protrusions atop their upper beak. The horn begins to grow during the spring breeding season and falls off or sheds after the eggs have been laid. * I am waiting for more details about the horn. I will update this post once I have received that information.

When I write these articles, I do my best to photograph the subjects I am writing/ researching about in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, there are times when I am unable to do so. 

Where would I find American White pelicans when I have one day to find them and not travel to the southern tip of Florida? Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, that’s where. 

What a splendid place to visit on short notice! It was a short distance for me to get some media content  of the American White Pelican. They are not only beautiful seabirds but extremely delightful to watch.

Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican

Wild Seabirds- The American White Pelican


Websites to check out:

iNaturalist – https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=21&subview=table&taxon_id=4334

e-Bird: https://ebird.org/species/amwpel/US-FL

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31060155

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-25736049

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2010/04/when-pigeons-flock-whos-command

https://www.pnas.org/content/112/7/2115

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/McNary/Wildlife_Habitats/Pelicans.html

https://opticbird.com/birds-migrate-florida/

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=21&subview=grid&taxon_id=3

http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/polkco/2017/11/22/american-white-pelicans-floridas-other-snowbird/


I would like to share some things that happened while I was at the park photographing. 

Photographers Ethics

So while photographing the birds, a staff member from the park came up to me and asked if I was feeding the wildlife? I am like, what? No.

He said someone reported that a photographer was throwing food in it’s area to get the animal closer to photograph it. Those who know me know that I would have said something without any doubt if I would have seen that. I most likely have to take a couple of steps back and take a long and deep breath first before choosing to open my mouth. 

Listening to Others

I was so amazed by some people that I overheard talking about the birds and some of the animals at the park. It was so inspiring that people really wanted to learn and share that information, even if they didn’t really want to hear it. So, to the lady trying to explain the bird’s adaptation to that gentleman, good for you!

Have a great weekend, and try not to leave any doors closed to learn about nature!


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