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American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

The American White Pelican breeds on lakes throughout the northern prairies and mountain West, but winters are spent in coastal areas. This bird is the only species of pelican to grow a “horn” on their upper bill. The odd looking growth is a fibrous plate, which is shed after the breeding season is over.

While most of their kin breed north of about 40° latitude, there are perhaps four known populations that break with this tradition. One is in Durango Mexico, one is Tamaulipas Mexico, one is in Colorado, and the third and perhaps the largest of these is at Laguna Madre in Texas. These isolated population are reported at 100-500 pairs.

These are one of the largest birds in North America. When I’ve seen these great birds take off or land in formation on some inland lake, I’m reminded of a squadron of B29 bombers flying in formation. Watching them feed on the water’s surface in choreographed groups is equally entertaining, as they circle around schooling fish in an ever tightening circle of birds, then simultaneously dipping their great bills into the water to catch their confused prey.

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