Posted on

The American White Pelican: A Species worthy of Conservation

white pelican

The common occurrence

I have encountered numerous American white pelicans in my life; I don’t think I’ve ever been to the coast and failed to see one. These birds are absolutely everywhere down on the coast of Texas and the gulf (the only parts of the ocean I’ve ever visited). I’ve even seen these particular pelicans up in Montana and Colorado. Anywhere there are large bodies of water, white pelicans can almost always be found!  

I’ve noticed that many people overlook our most common species, so I thought I would highlight how neat our white pelicans are.

American White Pelican landing near the shore at Corpus Christi

The trip that stands out

When I think of the white pelican, one trip stands out from the rest. My first trip to the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society meeting in Corpus Christi; I was in my second year at WT in the Wildlife biology program. Since this meeting is a big deal to most in the wildlife field, there are many students who try to make the trip to wherever the meeting is held each year. Luckily, I secured a ride with my close friends, and we drove 10 hours to Corpus Christi, arriving at our hotel at 3 in the morning. We were completely exhausted and had a very busy weekend ahead of us!

After being in many different research presentations all day, my friends and I decided we needed to go birding (of course). We met up with Ashley Tubbs, an invaluable friend and incredible expert with birds and herps (reptiles and amphibians), and an exceptional photographer who has received many prestigious awards for her talents. She’s incredible. Anyway, she was kind enough to show us some hotspots for birding.  We were able to see a great number of species (many were new to me), including our endangered whooping crane population.

Did you know there are fewer whooping cranes left in the wild than there are giant pandas? Crazy, right?

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch any great photos of the cranes.

Pollywog pond was probably the coolest birding spot we went to;  I was able to see a large variety of birds in just a small area.  If you look close enough, you never know what kind of birds you can spot, especially in your own back yard.


I saw these beautiful pelicans just off the shore, patiently waiting for scraps being thrown by the fisherman on the docks who were cleaning out their catch for the day. They were like stray cats waiting on their daily treat. You could tell the fisherman feed them on a daily basis. There were probably at least 10 white and brown pelicans gathered, not to mention all the gulls, fighting over the scraps being thrown out. It was quite entertaining to watch.

A little more information

white pelican
American White Pelican soaring over Corpus Christi

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of only two types of pelican that can be found here in the U.S.. There are obvious differences between the two species (one’s brown, the other is white, duh!). You shouldn’t have any issues between telling the two apart.

These guys are some of the many species of birds that breed up north, then migrate to the coasts during the winter months.

They mostly eat fish (of course!), but I have seen a video of one eating another bird! Animal behavior is a crazy thing.  Once you think you have an animal figured out, they go and surprise you!  Many people think that these birds carry food in their pouches, but they typically swallow any food they might have before they take off for flight.

pelican skull
My son holding up a pelican skull

Have you ever seen a pelican “flutter” its pouch?  This funny behavior actually has a purpose.  These guys get overheated very easily; “fluttering” is how they try to rid their bodies of excess heat!

I often think of pterodactyls anytime I see a species of pelican soaring across the horizon. If you have an active imagination, like I do, maybe you can see it? No? Maybe I’m just a crazy person.

Things we can do

If you spend very long on the internet there are tons of articles, pictures, and videos about how trashed out our oceans have become.  The trash in our oceans and waterways alone are causing pelicans and other animals to die off in great numbers.

There is a simple solution to this problem.  Pick up your trash, guys.  If you see trash, please pick it up (if it’s not hazardous). We always leave the beach with at least a handful or two of trash we find (if we don’t have a bag).  There are trash cans posted all over the place usually, if there isn’t, take a bag with you.  It’s really pretty simple.  But of course, anyone who is interested enough in nature to be reading this blog, most likely won’t be littering. So, really, I’m preaching to the choir here, right?

There are numerous non-profit organizations out there who spend the majority of their time picking up trash and making neat things with it for donations.  They spread awareness, and make a great deal of difference. Conservation efforts are  how I like to judge a non-profit agency.  What are they doing to ensure our wildlife lasts for generations?

The Ocean Conservancy hosts clean-ups every year.  To check out the impact that trash has on our environment, I highly suggest checking out their blog.  They have an astounding article on how much trash was picked up last year by volunteers (over 2 million pounds of trash has been collected since 1985).  It’s incredible.  Check it out here, and while you’re over there, think about donating to their cause.

Other ways to help: reduce, reuse, and recycle.  According to one of The Ocean Conservancy’s articles, in 2012 the U.S. recycled approx. 9% of their plastics, compared to the 30% in Europe, even China recycled 25%.  Come on, guys.  We can do better than that.  “A whopping 79% of all the plastics ever produced have now been discarded. Only 21% of plastics are still in active use.” Wow.

One way we have tried to help is our REDUCTION on plastic use.  I am actively trying to cut down on our plastic consumption altogether.  I try not to buy any products with plastic packaging by buying in bulk; we don’t ever use disposable plastics unless we absolutely need to, I cloth diaper (yes, disposable diapers have plastics in them), use glass whenever possible, reusable snack bags instead of ziplocks, ect.

It’s a hard change at first, there are a lot of steps to take in the process of becoming plastic free, but after a few years, we are probably 80% free of disposables in our house.  We recycle anything else that we can.  I would consider that a pretty good percentage considering that we have two kids.

What are you doing to help rid our environment of plastics?

Check out more tips on how to help out local wildlife.

white pelican

Click here for more of my photography.  If you are interested in purchasing any, check out my contact page and we can discuss options! If you loved my post, I would appreciate it if you shared with your friends!