Pelicans, Briefly

Around the end of October last year I noticed two large, white birds on a sandbar where Blue Creek (when it has water, which is rarely) empties into Meredith.   I was on top of the cliffs at Fritch Fortress so I took a look through a spotting scope and they were obviously pelicans, even to an inexperienced birder like me.  I was quite surprised–I thought pelicans lived on the coast, not on a nearly dried up lake in the Texas Panhandle.  I looked them up when I got home and discovered they were American White Pelicans.  They breed and nest in lakes from Utah (about 20% of the nation’s population nests at Great Salt Lake) over to California and up into Canada.  There is also a small nesting colony in Laguna Madre on the Texas coast.  They fly south to the Gulf Coast and to Southern California for the winter each year.  The next time I went out to the lake I didn’t see them.

Then, in mid-November a group of thirty or so arrived at Meredith and stayed for few days.  I took several photos of them while they were here.

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I didn’t expect to see them again after that until spring, but a group of about 10 showed up in mid-January and they’ve been there since.

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american-white-pelican-27-1280x628The group has grown in the last few days.  I counted twenty this morning.  There has also been a steady stream of Double-crested Cormorants arriving for about a week or so.  I saw 15 of them at Spring Canyon sitting on the spillway walls this morning and another 30 or so on the sandbars off of Blue Creek.

The pelicans that were here in October and November had smooth straight bills.  The group that arrived in January, however, had a small bump on the top of their bills about midway down the length of it.  The bumps have continued to grow and are now quite large; some are beginning to look like the fins of sharks or dolphins, or the keel of a surfboard.  They are so large that it must make it difficulty to see what’s in front of them.  I don’t know how they keep from going cross-eyed—maybe they don’t, I haven’t seen them up close.american-white-pelican-38-1280x928The keels grow during breeding season.  After the season is over and at about the time eggs are laid the keel falls off.  So, now I’m wondering if the pelicans are going to nest here or will they fly on up to Utah or Canada to lay eggs.  From what I’ve read, they begin arriving at nesting sites in March and April, then start building nests and laying eggs from April until June.  They’ll probably head north—every natural predator they have are pretty common around here.  Ring-billed and Herring Gulls will steal the eggs, Bald Eagles will eat the fledglings and coyotes will even prey on the adults if they can get to them. I’ll let you know if they stay or go.

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