The Migratory Pelican
Today I saw my first group of American White Pelicans soaring overhead, beginning their slow journey south. It was a true sign that fall migration has begun here in Minnesota even though our weather will be in the nineties this week. It is the amount of daylight, rather than temperature, that signals the need to travel for the migratory birds.
Pelicans are leisurely migrators. They will often be seen in a “kettle” formation where a group of 30 or so birds are soaring in a large circle by riding an updraft of warm air called a thermal. They don’t seem to be traveling very far or fast. When soaring, they are easy to identify by their large size and white bodies with black wingtips.
The white pelican is a freshwater, inland lake breeder. Its summer range is from the Mississippi River and west. Growing up in Ohio, the only pelicans I ever saw were the brown pelicans on trips to Florida. Most of the eastern half of the US does not have this white variety except in Florida in the winter where they can be found on inland waterbodies. Both the brown and the white pelicans have rebounded from the 1960’s when both species’ populations were in trouble due to the effects of DDT. It estimated that the white pelican population has rebounded to 450,000. The White pelicans are much shyer than the Brown. They are sensitive to human disturbance at their breeding colonies in which the slightest threat can cause them to abandon their nests.
These pelicans are another species of freshwater-dependent birds that makes living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes so special.