Migration of White Pelicans
It’s that time of the year again and you won’t want to miss it! If you have recently visited LSU’s campus, you may have noticed flocks of one of the largest North American birds forging and making themselves at home in our very own LSU Lakes.
During this time of year, American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) migrate from the cold winters of Canada and the Rocky Mountains to the warmer wetlands along the coastline. American White Pelicans are white birds from the order Pelecaniformes. They can be identified by their black primary and secondary feathers, orange webbed feet, and orange bills, ranging from 11.5-13.5 inches long, with board pouches and breeding horns during breeding seasons. Standing approximately 3 feet, females weigh around 10-17 lbs and males weigh 12-20 lbs. Despite common misconceptions you may have seen in cartoon portrayals, pelicans do not use their pouches to carry food. Pelicans use their pouches to scoop up food but swallows them before flying off. Unlike their cousins, the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), American White Pelicans do not plunge-dive to catch fish. Instead, they forage from the surface by dipping their long bills in the water to scoop up their prey, then lifting their bills to drain the water and swallow. Occasionally, groups of pelicans will team up to herd fish towards the surface for an easy catch.
Breeding adults consume 20-40% of its body weight daily. Pelicans begin breeding at 3 years old and are monogamous for breeding season. Two eggs are laid two days apart 5-8 days after courtship and 4-5 days after nest building. Once the first egg hatches, both parents take turns foraging and guarding the nest every day. The first hatched chick typically attacks its younger sibling to compete for enough food from parent. Chicks are born pinkish orange, without feathers and weigh 4 ounces. Chicks begin to grow downy feather by day two and are completely covered by day 15. Juvenile feather will gradually replace down feather and are completely replaced by 33 days old. Human disturbance causes pelicans to desert their nest, often trampling their eggs or chicks in attempt to escape or exposing their eggs or chicks to predation and temperature extremes. The best way to admire these majestic creatures is from a far distance.
Written by: Laci Nguyen, Biologist