The American white pelican is the second largest bird in North America, with a wingspan up to nine feet, and weighing from nine to thirty pounds. The average weight is from eleven to twenty pounds. While on the ground they appear solid white, but the black wing feathers are seen during flight. They have long beaks with a large pouch that can hold up to three gallons of water when scooping up fish. They drain out the water and swallow their catch. They fish in schools on the top of the water, no diving from the air. They form a line and drive the fish into a shallow area, and a large number will surround the fish, and have a feeding frenzy. An adult can eat four pounds of fish each day.
American white pelicans after leaving their winter grounds in the south, nest during the spring into summer in the northern plains of the United States and up into inland Canada. Breeding adults develop a flat vertical plate on top of their bill near the tip. It is lost later in the season, and reappears the next breeding season. The nests are made by raking up gravel, sand, or soil to create a shallow bowl roughly two feet across and eight inches high around the rim. The eggs are laid two to three days apart in the nest and are incubated by both parents. One to three eggs are laid; incubation is for 32 to 35 days, not under the breast, but under their webbed feet. Only one chick will survive to fledging. The older or larger chick will kill the weaker sibling in the nest. In late October of 2017 I photographed a tagged pelican near Doublehead. After I reported the bird along with the photographic evidence, I found out that it was hatched in July of 2016 in Minnesota. A banded sandhill I photographed at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge in Decatur was hatched and banded in Idaho.
A pelican must have wind for taking off to fly. They have to flap their wings and run across the water until they have enough speed to take off. They fly in large schools while migrating and flying from one area to another. Landing if by circling the landing area catching the wind to clumsily float in and crash.
On Saturday November 7, I heard reports of a large number of the pelicans at Joe Wheeler State Park. a friend rode with me after we attended the Heinie Manush Memorial Drive dedication at his childhood home on Third Street in Tuscumbia. Heinie Manush was the first Alabamian inducted into Cooperstown. During his career, he beat Babe Ruth one year for the batting title.
After we passed the boat ramps, we saw several cars pulled off the side of the road and a sea of white in the creek below the road. Hundreds of pelicans were getting ready for roosting. While we were there several were fishing and apparently had rounded up a big school of fish. About a hundred or so took off and joined in the fishing excitement. As it got dark, we met Greg Motes and three of his friends from Louisiana that he used to worked with for dinner at the Lodge. We saw several deer and raccoons on the way there and back home around the golf course.
The next morning, I rode back and checked the usual areas pelicans are seen at the TVA Rockpile park and Doublehead . Several pelicans were on the island in front of the dam, but too far off for photographs. Doublehead and Wheeler dam were bare. As I crossed Second creek east of Elgin, I saw a large number of pelicans around the boat ramp actively fishing. I took photographs until they swam out of range, and went to Joe Wheeler State Park. I saw several hundred actively fishing at the boat ramp known as site number three on the Alabama Birding Trail. I spent about an hour there until a boat moved them down stream out of range. While there I thought I heard a Sandhill calling. A group of nine sandhills were flying V shape toward the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully the observation building will be open before the sandhills migrate back north.