Friday, August 21, 2015

American White Pelicans (and a bonus Cormorant) at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

We were on a long trip to the Pacific Northwest, and on our last day of our journey we were covering a lot of ground, nearly 600 miles. Such long slogs require a few rest breaks, and the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge beckoned as we traveled south down the Great Valley. The refuges find their greatest mission during the winter migrations of Geese and Sandhill Cranes, but some birds are resident all year.
The most visible birds were the American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus). The two birds often share the same habitat, but tend to seek different prey at different water levels. Pelicans aren't above stealing fish from the smaller Cormorants once in a while. Things were pretty peaceful during our visit, though.
Pelicans are huge heavy birds and they seem so ungainly on the ground, but they are incredibly graceful in flight. Their huge beaks aren't used to store fish, just to catch them. They don't dive like Brown Pelicans. They tend to dip their beaks in the water while swimming instead.
The pelicans generally breed on inland lakes and islands, but will spend winters along the coastlines, where they share the environment with the Brown Pelican. A large rookery exists at Pyramid Lake in Nevada and a few parts of northeastern California, but according to this report, they don't breed to any great extent in the Great Valley anymore because of habitat destruction.
I guess they like hanging out with the local ducks. As you can see, they are huge birds, the second largest in North America. They have a wingspan of 8-10 feet!

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