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An Information Guide to Duck Key in the Florida Keys


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos of White Pelicans by Mary and Wayne Moccia
December, 2005

Note two eagles perched atop mangrove tree with white pelicans below.

 

 

The White Pelican appears to be ungainly and massive in size. Weighing from 15 to 20 pounds the White Pelican's wings stretch from 8 to 10 feet in length.

 

 

In flight the spotless purity of the White Pelican's snowy plumage is offset by radiant black wing feathers further enriched by its orange bill and feet.

 

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WHITE PELICAN

The White Pelican unlike the Brown stays far away from mankind and rests and breeds on small islands of the Florida Keys. The White Pelican feeds by splashing their wings and feet in the water to chase small fish into shallows in order to scoop them up with their bill. White Pelicans breed on Arsnicker Key in the Florida Keys. Care should be used when birding by keeping a good distance as not to frighten them away. Use a naturalist guide who knows the shallow waters and tides when visiting Arsnicker Key.

Audubon wrote much about the American White Pelican (Pelecanus americanus). Part of what Audubon writes in his Ornithological Biography, Volume IV, appears below:

Origin of Name

"I feel great pleasure, good reader, in assuring you, that our White Pelican, which has hitherto been considered the same as that found in Europe, is quite different. In consequence of this discovery, I have honoured it with the name of my beloved country, over the mighty streams of which, may this splendid bird wander free and unmolested to the most distant times, as it has already done from the misty ages of unknown antiquity."

On Catching Fish

"But mark, the red beams of the setting sun tinge the tall tops of the forest trees; the birds experience the cravings of hunger, and to satisfy them they must now labour. Clumsily do they rise on their columnar legs, and heavily waddle to the water. But now, how changed do they seem! Lightly do they float, as they marshal themselves, and extend their line, and now their broad paddle-like feet propel them onwards. In yonder nook, the small fry are dancing in the quiet water, perhaps in their own manner bidding farewell to the orb of day, perhaps seeking something for their supper. Thousands there are, all gay, and the very manner of their mirth, causing the waters to sparkle, invites their foes to advance toward the shoal. And now the Pelicans, aware of the faculties of their scaly prey, at once spread out their broad wings, press closely forward with powerful strokes of their feet, drive the little fishes toward the shallow shore, and then, with their enormous pouches spread like so many bag-nets, scoop them out and devour them in thousands."

On nesting

"It seems to me that it is now on account of the difficulties they meet with, from the constantly increasing numbers of our hostile species, that these creatures are urged to proceed towards wild and uninhabited parts of the world, where they find that security from molestation necessary to enable them to rear their innocent progeny, but which is now denied them in countries once their own".

On Fishing

"The White American Pelican never descends from on wing upon its prey, as is the habit of the Brown Pelican; and, although on many occasions it fishes in the manner above described, it varies its mode according to circumstances, such as a feeling of security, or the accidental meeting with shoals of fishes in such shallows as the birds can well compass. They never dive for their food, but only thrust their head into the waters as far as their neck can reach, and withdraw it as soon as they have caught something, or have missed it, for their head is seldom out of sight more than half a minute at a time."

 

On Flight

"The White Pelicans appear almost inactive during the greater part of the day, fishing only soon after sunrise, and again about an hour before sunset; though at times the whole flock will mount high in the air, and perform extended gyrations in the manner of the Hooping Crane, Wood Ibis, and Vultures. These movements are probably performed for the purpose of assisting their digestion, and of airing themselves, in the higher and cooler regions of the atmosphere. Whilst on the ground, they at times spread their wings to the breeze, or to the rays of the sun; but this act is much more rarely performed by them than by the Brown Pelicans. When walking, they seem exceedingly awkward, and like many cowardly individuals of our own species, are apt to snap at objects which they appear to know perfectly to be so far superior to them as to disdain taking notice of them. Their usual manner of flight is precisely similar to that of our Brown species. It is said by authors that the White Pelican can alight on trees; but I have never seen a single instance of its doing so. I am of opinion that the ridge projecting from the upper mandible increases in size as the bird grows older, and that it uses that apparatus as a means of defence or of attack, when engaged with its rivals in the love-season."

Beautiful Species

"This beautiful species,--for, reader, it is truly beautiful, and you would say so were you to pick it up in all the natural cleanness of its plumage, from the surface of the water,--carries its crest broadly expanded, as if divided into two parts from the centre of the head. The brightness of its eyes seemed to me to rival that of the purest diamond; and in the love-season, or the spring of the year, the orange-red colour of its legs and feet, as well as of the pouch and bill, is wonderfully enriched, being as represented in my plate, while during the autumnal months these parts are pale. Its flesh is rank, fishy, and nauseous, and therefore quite unfit for food, unless in cases of extreme necessity. The idea that these birds are easily caught when gorged with fish, is quite incorrect, for when approached, on such an occasion, they throw up their food, as Vultures are wont to do. "

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