One of the most anticipated
events for birders in the Middle Mississippi Valley is the annual
migration of the American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). During
their migration south from nesting areas in freshwater lakes in the northern
United States and southern Canada the pelicans arrive in the region beginning in
late September with the last leaving in early November. The pelicans make a
return trip from the Gulf of Mexico where they winter along the coast from
Florida to Mexico. The pelicans arrive in the Middle Mississippi Valley
beginning in March and stay in the region for three to five weeks when the last
pelicans depart in early April. The prime times to see huge flocks of these
magnificent birds are mid-March and mid-October.
American White Pelican, one of two species of pelicans in North America, is
one of the world's largest birds. They
can weigh as much as 30 pounds and have wingspans that can reach 110 inches.
Adult birds are primarily white except for its black-edged wings that are
visible in flight. It has a long neck, a long, flattened orange bill with an
expandable pouch and short orange legs with big webbed feet.
White Pelicans are highly social and live in large, dense colonies. Flocks
may work together in groups to encircle and driving their prey, usually
small fish or crustaceans, towards the shore where they are easier to catch.
The American white pelican doesn't dive into the water for its food like the
brown pelican. It floats on the water and scoops up fish and water in its
pouch and then holds its heads up, drains out the water, and then swallows
American White Pelican breeds in inland shallow freshwater lakes, wet
prairies, and marshes during the summer from southern Canada and Minnesota
west to northern California. They begin their migration to their winter
grounds along the Gulf Coast in early fall. The American White Pelican is
clumsy on land, but they are good swimmers and very graceful in flight. Like
swans and geese, pelicans often fly in evenly spaced lines or V formations.
However, these birds fly with their necks outstretched, while pelicans fly
with their necks doubled back against their shoulders. They often set up a
rhythmic pattern of wing beats that flow like a ripple from the lead bird to
the end of the V.
are many good sites in the Middle Mississippi River Valley. American White
Pelicans are not as approachable as Brown Pelicans and they tend to shy away
from people and developed areas so please do not scare or annoy the
pelicans. When they are in the area they can be seen throughout the entire
day. Remember to bring binoculars for best viewing and dress for the