Monday, October 4, 2010

American White Pelican

American White PelicanAmerican White Pelican, Forest Grove, Oregon on 19 August 2010 by Greg Gillson.


Rarely seen in western Oregon historically, non-breeding American White Pelicans have been summering in variable numbers in the Willamette Valley for about 10 years. This is the second summer in a row that pelicans have summered at the local wetlands where I took the photo above.

With a wingspan up to 9 feet these are the largest flying birds regularly found in the Pacific NW, indeed, all of North America, rivaling the wingspan of the California Condor. (The only larger bird ever recorded in North American, with 2 records, is Wandering Albatross with a 10 or 11 foot wingspan. The other albatrosses found at-sea off North America have wingspans of 7-9 feet.) American White Pelicans are heavy, too. At 16 pounds they are as heavy as a tom Wild Turkey. In North America only the California Condor, Mute Swan, and Trumpeter Swan are heavier.

The following is gleaned from Birds of Oregon: a general reference. 2003. Marshall, Contreras, and Hunter, editors.

In Oregon they nest at a few specialized locations, primarily barren islands in alkaline lakes of SE Oregon, and also on islands in the Columbia River. The nest sites are not necessarily the same from year-to-year; they change nesting locations periodically depending upon water levels. They seem to prefer more shallow lakes where fish concentrate in the receding waters. If such lakes dry up or, conversely, fill up with too much water, they will abandon that location. They easily abandon their nests when disturbed. One colony with 800 nests was abandoned in 1988 when trespassers visited the nesting island by canoe.

There are a few breeding colonies in eastern Washington, mostly on islands in the Columbia River. They breed at scattered sites in southern Idaho. My 1979 book, Birds of Canada, by Godfrey lists only one location for breeding in British Columbia (Stum Lake). But I suspect that, like Oregon, these magnificent birds have become more widespread throughout the Pacific NW in recent years. What can our readers tell us?