Tag Archives: white pelican

Anna Maria Island’s Most Beautiful Visitors: White Pelicans

White Pelicans try to take a Brown Pelican's fish

White Pelicans try to take a Brown Pelican’s fish.

For my first few years living on Anna Maria Island, I had only heard of white pelicans, but never had seen them. Eventually, my curiosity prompted me to go look for them. I had heard there were some at the south part of the island in Anna Maria Sound. At first, I thought I’d found them. They looked white, but they were in many ways similar to the more common local Brown Pelicans. Soon I learned Brown Pelicans have white heads and necks when they are adults, but not breeding. This is all I had seen.

Later I learned the best place to see the American White Pelican in this area was Cortez fishing village, and this is where I found them. On the occasion of my first American White Pelican spotting, there was no question about what it was. It was gigantic compared to the local browns. The wingspan of the white is 9 feet, compared to 7 feet for the brown. The white pelican also looks completely white when it floats in the water. The black primary and secondary flight feathers on the wings are only obvious during flight.

Other than size and color, the most obvious difference between Brown Pelicans and American White Pelicans is their feeding behavior. Brown Pelicans glide in the air, then do apparently awkward dives, splashing loudly into the water with a strange twist, but usually recovering with a pouch full of fish. White pelicans do not dive; instead they forage for fish in a methodical way. Sometimes they even swim as a group in a formation, moving the fish toward the shore or into narrow areas where they can be more easily caught.

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Brown Pelicans of Anna Maria Florida

The longer I live on Anna Maria, the more I appreciate the brown pelicans that live here year-round. At first glance, they seem so much less beautiful than their large white cousins who migrate here in winter and therefore are less “common.” But there are some very special things about the brown pelican and we are lucky to have them in Florida and on the island. I believe they are very sensitive to environmental degradation, so their presence is not only a joy, but also a reassuring sign.

Brown pelican

Brown pelicans have a wing span of about 84 inches, compared to the 108 inch wingspan of the American White Pelican. One of the most surprising things to witness is a brown pelican feeding by diving from the air. There is a big splash, as the bill enters the water to catch a fish and the body of the bird continues a little farther so the bird lands, twisting over its bill, so it ends up facing the opposite direction from that in which it was going. If one looks at it at this point, it’s often difficult to figure out what one is looking at. The head may still be down in the water and body still twisted. The impression is simply that something very large is partly submerged and partly visible. It often takes me awhile to realize it’s just a brown pelican fishing.

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