Pelecanus erythrorhynchos Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
These huge, spectacular looking white birds are seen in Florida between December and March. During these months, large flocks of white pelicans can be seen on Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. White pelicans spend the winter in Florida and along the Gulf coast, then fly north to nest in the mid-west and central Canada. In the mating season, male white pelicans develop a fibrous plate on the upper portion of their beak (see above)
White pelicans have a wingspan of 9 feet, and males and females are similar in appearance. In flight they can be confused with wood storks or whooping cranes as all three birds have similar distinctive black wingtips that stand out against the all-white plumage. However pelicans fly with their necks tucked in, unlike cranes and storks. In fall and spring large flocks of white pelicans can often be seen circling high above the central Gulf coast near Fort Myers and further north.
White pelicans are cooperative feeders. They do not plunge dive like the brown pelican, but rather, they use a coordinated feeding strategy and swim in a line or half circle, ‘herding’ fish towards the shore. Two groups of pelicans will sometimes ‘herd’ fish towards each other.
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