White Pelicans in Cedar Key, Florida

You can go to the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center to purchase a beautiful White Pelican ornament for only $15 donation. Also available at the Chamber are beautiful large size post cards of the marvelous White Pelican for a $1 donation. Hurry and pick yours up today


Published on Thursday, 12 December 2013 22:13
Written by Captain Doug Maple
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          The American White Pelican typically nests in fresh water lakes and rivers in the upper Midwest, the northwest and central Canada.  These birds differ from our brown pelicans in size and several other characteristics.  They are generally considered to be North America’s second largest bird.  They have a nine foot wingspan, they average about sixty-three inches in length (over five feet) and weigh about 16 pounds.  The brown pelican tends to average about 8 pounds.  So the whites are nearly twice as big.  Note that size comparisons are reached by factoring the weight, length and wingspan.  Some birds have a broader wingspan, some are heavier and some are longer.  But when factoring all three together, the white pelican is second only to the whooping Crane.  
                 In the early fall, as the northern temperatures begin to cool, they begin to move south.  They usually arrive in Cedar Key between October 20 and October 27th.  Most of them arrive en-mass.  It is a truly beautiful sight if you happen to be out in our coastal waters when this occurs.  For most of the winter months we host about four hundred birds.  They are divided into about four groups: One at Corrigan’s Reef, one at Scale Key Gap, one near North Key and the other at Derrick Key/McClemery Key.  These sites serve as their roosting sites when they are not feeding.  They can be seen at these sites during high tides.  White pelicans typically feed as a group during low tide.  They do not dive for fish as the brown pelicans.  Rather they form lines and semicircles and slowly and methodically heard schools of small fish into tight groups in shallow water.  At just the right moment, as the fish begin to attempt their escape, the group engages in a brief feeding frenzy.  In a moment, when it is over, they form into lines and once again begin to herd fish.  As the tide rises, they return to the same roosting site where they remain until the tides fall.  When viewing the birds from the Number Three Bridge you may have noticed that on very low tides there are usually very few birds.  On very high tides, most of the birds are present. 
          In the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, white pelicans seemed to be on the verge of extinction.  This was due to eating fish contaminated with D. D. T.  In more recent years, their numbers have been continually increasing and they are no longer endangered. 
          Each year tens of thousands of these birds leave their northern nesting grounds and take up winter residence on the coasts of Mexico, Texas and Florida.  Most people, however, never see them.  This is because they tend to stay away from people and developed coastal areas such as public beaches, marina and coastal neighborhoods.  In Cedar Key, you are more likely to see them in the coastal marsh during very low tides.  You are also more likely to see them as we move farther into February.  This is because many of them who spent mid-winter in South Florida began to move up the coast as spring set in to South Florida in early February.  They seem to stage in this area, joining with our winter population until later in March, when they fly north.  I have counted well over 800 white pelicans in the Cedar Key area during this spring period.  
          I began writing this article several weeks ago, and now most of our migrant white pelicans have arrived.  It appears as though our young birds that have recently been so visible may have begun to disperse into the new arrivals.
          Our migratory shore birds began arriving in September and are pretty much settled in for the winter.  Most of the white pelicans have very recently arrived.  In November, our ducks, loons and mergansers arrived.  Most of our spoonbills will be leaving but some will remain.  I hope everyone enjoys our winter visitors as much as I do.
Captain Doug Maple
Cedar Key, FL
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