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A snowbird that does not drive

It is the time of year when species of all kinds are paying the Gulf Coast a visit. We have become used to the ones from the north without a tan but the ones I am think about are white but it do not drive and like to fly everywhere they go. The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is the snowbird I’m talking about. The white pelican spends spring and summer in the north from the great lakes up into Alberta, Canada.White pelicans arrive in the north in late April. These birds are very social and group their nests together in colonies. Their nests are usually built off the ground out of sticks, grasses and reeds, usually on an island or an isolated inland lake. They have two to four chalky white eggs, which are incubated for a month. Both parents help feed the chicks, which is done by regurgitating food with the young sticking their heads into the parents’ beaks to feed. The adults rarely make any noise, when they do it is usually a low grunt.However, like most children the young squeal and are very noisy. They leave before the ice freezes-up in late September and migrate to the coasts of Florida and Mexico for the winter. Some of them also head to the coast of California, Mexico and Central America.The white pelican is one of the world’s largest birds weighing in at 11 to 20 ponds with a wingspan up to 10 feet. Beneath it’s long flattened orange bill there is a bright yellow-orange pouch, which it uses for feeding.The adults can eat up to five pounds of food a day. They feed in shallow water where they can scoop up as much as three gallons of water at a time. They strain all of it to isolate small fish, salamanders, frogs and aquatic insects they feed on.The white pelican does not dive for its food like the brown pelican that is common along the Gulf Coast. It just floats along after it lands scooping up what ever is within reach.For three years I flew a single engine aircraft several times a month year round over Alabama’s inshore coastal waters counting recreational fishermen. When I flew over the Delta this time of year from 2,000 feet I could down and see what looked like 120 gallon white coolers floating around. They were not coolers they were the white pelicans. These birds are very impressive and seem to have put the white in the word white.The white pelican was on the endangered species list for many years. DDT and habitat destruction greatly reduced its numbers. It was removed from the list in 1987. The white pelican is still considered endangered in Alberta, Canada where the population has increased from 548 nesting pairs in 1980 to over 1,000 today. But, fewer than half of the 20 known historic nesting islands are still in use.

Think Global – Act Local.

Dr. “Skip” Lazauski can be seen on the television show “Eco-Bites”, which airs on Mediacom’s channel 14 and Smartel’s channel 4.  To reach Dr. Lazauski for questions and comments, send e-mail to IchiOrca@yahoo.com. For more information, see his Web site, www.drskiponline.com.

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