Get To Know The American White Pelican
One of the most special things about the Lowcountry and its surrounding areas is the wildlife. In each of our expeditions, it is possible to come across beautiful and rare animals all year round. One of the most stunning and unique to see this time of year is the American White Pelican.
Welcome back to the blog, adventurers. What exciting things have you come back inside from to sit and read with us for a while? It might be winter for a few more weeks thanks to a certain groundhog, but that is not stopping us from enjoying everything this season can offer. While there can be cooler temperatures and dark rainy days, there is still so much to discover in Shem Creek, Awendaw, Kiawah, on the ACE Basin, on Bulls Island, within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, through the Francis Marion National Forrest, along the Black River, on the Isle of Palms, on St. Phillips Island, and beyond. Even better? All of these locations are right here in our backyard and waiting for our locals and visitor friends alike to come and explore every inch with us.
One of our most treasured aspects of every expedition is to come upon native animals, fish, or birds right in their natural habitat! If you’ve been following our Instagram account recently, you might have seen that we’ve been talking a lot about the American White Pelican. This is a very unique season for birding, and there is no better place to take advantage of that and a good hike than on Bulls Island! The American White Pelican might be one such bird that you could discover on your next trip out! Right now these stunning birds are looking for their mate to welcome spring in with adorable baby pelicans. Did you know that a bump appears on the bills of male and female breeding pelicans during mating season? Once the eggs have been laid, these bumps fall off! There are eight different pelican species, and of those eight, the American White Pelican is the only one to grow this fibrous epidermal plate! When ornithologist John Audubon first saw these pelicans, he became enthralled with them. He noted that “they are truly beautiful” and their eyes rivaled “that of the purest diamonds.” With that in mind, we wanted to share a little more history and information about these amazing creatures!
These incredible birds are a sight to see, as they are some of the largest birds with wingspans up to nine feet. Due to their immense size, it’s quite spectacular to see them fly and soar as gracefully as they do. They are among the heaviest birds in the world that can fly. They travel great distances throughout the year following their migratory patterns. They will travel these long distances in large flocks by soaring, sometimes very high in the sky. So when you begin looking for them, don’t just skim the water, look above you to see if you can catch a glimpse of them way up high! Why is the wintertime such a great time to spot these majestic creatures here in the Lowcountry? They are typically found along the coast in the winter and love to live near lakes, marshes, and on salt bays. Sounds pretty similar to the natural elements close to home right here! They like to feed at shallow lakes, rivers, marshes and they like to breed on coastal islands. The American White Pelican will spend the cold season on the coast in protected bays and estuaries. They are very similar to the Brown Pelican and can sometimes be seen with Double-Crested Cormorants, who they sometimes live with and sometimes steal food from!
MATING SEASON & OFFSPRING
As we mentioned above, you’ll see a bump form on their beaks when both the male and female White Pelican are in mating season, which falls off once the eggs are laid. They do so on islands in shallow wetlands. Once a mating and resting ground is established, they are normally monogamous creatures. Courtship can consist of circular flights over the nesting ground, head swaying, strutting, and bowing. Once partners are chosen, 1-6 eggs are laid and incubation is about 30 days with both parents taking turns watching and sitting on the nest. While the embryo is waiting to be born, it can squeak before hatching to express its discomfort if it is too hot or too cold. They hatch without feathers and are unable to see for the first 24 hours of life. They can crawl within two weeks, by week three they can walk, and they can swim by the time they can make it to the water. By 9 to 10 weeks, the little ones can fly. Parents provide food to their young by regurgitating it. First, they will regurgitate it on the ground in front of the chicks, then inside their bill tips, and then finally in their throats that the chicks will have to get themselves. About 150 pounds of food must be provided by the parents for their chicks until they can feed themselves. After about 17 to 25 days, according to borealbirds.com
, the chicks begin leaving the nest. As time goes on, they become less and less attached to the nest and begin forming their own groups and independence.
American White Pelicans primarily eat fish and are also known to eat crayfish and salamanders. They do not dive for their prey, unlike their Brown Pelican family members. They eat specifically from the water’s surface, dipping their bills into the water to catch their prey. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t carry their food in their bill pouches. They swallow their food before flying off, getting rid of any excess water. They will forage together, sometimes working together as a group to push schools of fish towards shallow water, allowing others to scoop up the fish. They are also known for stealing food from other pelicans, adjacent pelicans in their nesting areas, and from Double-Crested Cormorants. While they do eat and forage during the day, this is known to change during mating season. They will hunt and forage at night during mating season, and while this can be difficult, it can help them end up with bigger fish to enjoy.
Due to their size, they can overheat in the summertime. To help cool themselves down, they can either flutter their wings, or they can stand away from the sun and flutter their bill pouches. Inside their pouches are blood vessels that allow their body heat to escape. The oldest American White Pelican to live, according to allbirds.com
, was 23 years and 6 months old and was discovered in North Dakota in 1983. According to Audubon.org
, these great birds have quite a success story. They were seeing a huge decline in their population in the early 1900’s, but they saw a huge upswing in population in the 70’s and 80’s!
These stunning birds are truly breathtaking to see in the wild and are a wonderful reminder of how powerful nature can be! We hope you get a chance to catch a glimpse of a few on your next adventure with us! We have spotted a few with bumps on their bills, so in our book, Spring is right around the corner! If you’re looking for the best kayaking, SUP, hiking tours, boat tours, and more right here in Charleston, you’ve found it! Book your next expedition with us now by visiting our website or giving us a call! We can’t wait to see you soon, adventurers!