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American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos


A large aquatic bird, white with black trailing edge on wing. Wingspan up to 9 feet. Bill is long and wide with an extensible pouch. Body is large and heavy with short, orange-red legs and webbed feet. Short tail. The black markings on the wing are most noticeable when in flight.


The American White Pelican nests in large colonies near brackish and freshwater lakes in inland North America. They winter on the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts in estuaries and lakes. They are rarely seen over open oceans or seas. These images were taken of a migratory flock flying over the large brackish estuaries of Merritt Island NWR on the east coast of Florida. I have observed American White Pelicans in many types of open water from inland lakes, bays, estuaries, open marshes and occasionally swimming near the shore on the Gulf and Atlantic.


I revisited these images after reading a passage in David Attenborough's book "THE LIFE OF BIRDS": "White pelicans have a special additional way of saving energy {in flight}. They take advantage of the turbulence in the air created by their companions. The high pressure air created below a wing by its aerofoil shape leaks around the tip of the wing into the low pressure area on the upper surface. This slight upward current in the air remains briefly in its wake. A pelican flying in a group takes advantage of this by flying behind the wing-tip of the bird ahead rather than directly behind its tail. The wing tip station also gives it a better view of what lies ahead...The only bird in the group that does not benefit from this order of flight is the leader of the squadron and after having done its share it will fall behind and allow another to take on the job. "

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Spotted by

Brevard, Florida, USA

Lat: 28.68, Long: -80.76

Spotted on Feb 5, 2013
Submitted on Mar 3, 2013

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