Tuesday, June 2, 2015

American White Pelican

American White Pelicans, like this one off Rockport, Texas, last March, are opportunistic feeders. Usually they prefer “trash” fish—carp and minnows, not favored by anglers. Regurgitated hooks and lures suggest that they will occasionally consume wounded “sport” fish. Here in the upper mid-west, they also eat salamanders and crayfish (Knopf and Evans 2004).

White pelicans are the synchronized swimmers of the bird world. They cooperatively forage, forming a circle around fish schools and concentrating the fish in the center of the pelican flock.  Other times, the birds herd the prey into shallow water, where the fish are voraciously consumed. Once caught, the prey is swallowed, and not carried in pelicans' pouches to feed their young.

My early mentor, Roxie Laybourne, was a forensic ornithologist. She identified bird species from single feathers. She told a story of two Texas hunters who illegally shot a large white bird. Afraid they had murdered a Whooping Crane, the men burned the carcass. Much to the hunters’ relief, Roxie identified the few feathered remains as belonging to an American White Pelican—still illegal, but with fewer monetary consequences.

1 comment: