Species that prey together, stay together!

by Dave Hanks

White Pelicans are found in groups, whether upon the water or on an island. They will line up across the water to encircle and herd the fish. They scoop them up in the pouch under their beak while swimming. This cooperation within a group is advantageous when securing prey. Water taken into the pouch is strained out, leaving the fish, frogs, or other small aquatic animals to be ingested. The Brown Pelican (a coastal cousin) feeds separately by diving into the water for its prey.

This bird is 62 long with a wing span of 108. The large, white body has black wing tips that are obvious while the bird is in flight. Its beak, pouch, and feet are pinkish-orange. Sexually active individuals also have a knob on the top of their beak. It must be a courtship aid, as it is shed after the eggs are laid.

White Pelicans nest in colonies in mid-May. The nests are usually on an island and the eggs are incubated for a month. Pelicans may fly as far as 150 miles from their nest to feed. In winter, they will migrate to open coastal or southern waters.

These birds are very graceful in flight. They flap their wings slowly, appearing to soar much of the time. When I see a group of them in the air, it reminds me of a ballet beauty in the sky. This species was quite rare in Cassia County in my early school teaching years, but in succeeding years the population has increased to where we now have sizeable numbers.

This large bird can live as long as 12 to 14 years unusual in the bird world.

(A quiet, reflective morning at the Bear River Refuge in Utah)