(EnviroNews Nature) — Heber, Utah — The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is an amazing bird to say the least. It can even walk on water. Well, ok, maybe it hops on water with the assistance of a few wing beats, but it’s still pretty impressive. But hopping on water isn’t the only praise-worthy thing about this majestic bird — it has many other endearing qualities.
The American white pelican is the second largest bird in North America behind only the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), which is nearly extinct. Its massive wingspan can reach 10 feet, while with its disproportionally long beak the bird measures as long as 70 inches and weighs up to 30 pounds. During mating season, the bird grows a conspicuous bump on its beak which falls off when breeding is over.
Despite its size though, the mighty flier is actually quite graceful, and who’d have thought it could hop across the water so effortlessly before getting airborne — like a massive 747 jet airliner moving itself down the runway prior to takeoff.
American white pelicans nest in large colonies on salty inland lakes throughout North America. As much as 20% of the species’ population nests on Gunnison Island in Utah’s infamous Great Salt Lake. The hopping birds featured in this story’s video were filmed on Strawberry Reservoir — also in Northern Utah.
As many as 5,000 breeding pair have been observed at a single nesting site. Birds arrive in March or April to scope out the grounds and start competing for a good place to raise a chick — maybe even two if the mating pair is lucky. Nesting starts in May or June.
This species of pelican has a very large beak and throat pouch, used for catching prey and filtering out sediment after scooping for fish. But surprisingly, American white pelicans are pack hunters of sorts. They prefer to hunt in groups, herding fish and cooperating for higher success. In addition to fish, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos also feasts on crawfish (of which there are many in Strawberry Reservoir) as well as salamanders and other amphibians.
Fortunately, the American white pelican’s numbers are doing very well as compared to many North American avian species, and the bird is listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Hundreds of Pelicans at Goat Rock Beach in Northern California
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