White Pelicans!

Snowy white birds with black wing tips.
American White Pelicans with black wing tips – photo by Patti Romano

What a delight it has been to see American White Pelicans here in the low country!

After scooping up the prey, the pelican lifting it's bill.
American White Pelicans with head raised after scooping up fish – photo by Mary Van Deusen

American White Pelicans are large, snowy white waterbirds with large, striking yellow-orange pouched bills and black-tipped feathers, visible only in flight.

Fish scooped up into pelican's pouch.
American White Pelican with fish in pouch – photo by Mary Van Deusen

It is interesting to observe how different their foraging habits are from the Brown Pelicans, more familiar to us here in South Carolina. Brown Pelicans plunge-dive from the sky to snatch fish from the water. Their white cousins glide along paddling bright yellow-orange feet, gracefully dipping their bills into the water to scoop up prey. We observed how they sometimes forage cooperatively as a group, corralling fish into more shallow waters.

American White Pelican with nuptial tubercles – photo by Mary Van Deusen

Although this has not been their usual breeding territory, we observed at least one of the serially monogamous pelicans with the nuptial tubercles (large ridges in the beak) and ornamental feathers on the head.

While the shape of these magnificent birds resembles that of Brown Pelicans, the much larger American White Pelicans are one of the heaviest birds in North America with a wingspan reaching 9 feet.

White pelicans with one brown pelican.
American White Pelican squadron with one brown pelican – photo by Mary Van Deusen

We hope you are fortunate enough to spot a squadron of these snowy white water birds floating, scooping up fish, or tipping up like ducks in our beautiful wetlands.

Feathers and Feet (Mary Van Deusen and Patti Romano)

To learn more about American White Pelicans, visit The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website.

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