American White Pelican preening session

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah, part of the National Wildlife Refuge system, has been closed since the first of June and reopened this week.  My friend Ron Dudley and I made the trip there this morning, not expecting to see much because reports were that there were few birds and we expected the birds to be nervous after not being exposed to many people or vehicular traffic for three months.

Birds were scarce, the water level in the ponds was low so there were only a few shorebirds. On the way out of the refuge though we stopped to photograph some American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and a few Double-crested Cormorants. One of the pelicans was preening and put on quite a show. I’ll apologize up front about the number of images I am posting but I found this behavior and action very interesting. Ideally I would have preferred to have the pelican isolated from the rest of the birds on the shoreline yet I am still glad I saw and documented this behavior.

American White Pelican rubbing its head on its back

American White Pelican rubbing its head on its back – D200, f9, 1/1000, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The pelican was rubbing its head and neck across its back. For some reason this pose reminds me of Sandhill Cranes when they are displaying.

American White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant scratching

American White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant scratching – D200, f13, 1/640, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

An American White Pelican and Double-crested Cormorant were very close together on the shoreline, the cormorant seemed to take a cue from the pelican and began scratching not long after the pelican. Maybe it is like the effect where one person yawns and soon other people surrounding them begin to yawn too, I am not sure.

American White Pelican cleaning bill

American White Pelican cleaning bill #1 – D200, f13, 1/640, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The pelican began to shakes its pouch vigorously up and down, according to BNA (a pay site) this behavior is probably to rid the pouch or bill of debris. It sure seemed to me like this pelican was trying to very hard to do just that!

American White Pelican cleaning bill #2 – D200,  f13, 1/640, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

In the image above the pelican has its bill open and the tongue of the bird is exposed. The bird was still shaking the bill and pouch up and down.

American White Pelican cleaning bill

American White Pelican cleaning bill #3 – D200,  f13, 1/640, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Here the pouch of the pelican is being pushed towards the upper mandible and appears to be inside out.

American White Pelican with bill open wide

American White Pelican with bill open wide –  D200,  f13, 1/640, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

I’m not sure the pelican can open its bill much wider than this photo shows. It makes my jaw ache to even think about opening my jaw that wide.

American White Pelican scratching its neck

American White Pelican scratching its neck –  D200,  f13, 1/500, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The pelican stretches its neck to be able to preen the neck feathers with the bill.

American White Pelican opening its bill

American White Pelican opening its bill – D200,  f13, 1/640, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

American White Pelican saying Ah!

American White Pelican saying Ah! – D200,  f11, 1/750, ISO 400, EV -0.3, 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

Just before leaving these birds the pelican threw back its head and opened its bill wide, perhaps it was attempting to catch a flying fish? Just kidding!

The American White Pelican is unmistakable with its huge wing span, black and white coloring and its distinctively large bill. These pelicans forage in flocks using their wings & bills to drive fish into shallow water . They are highly social and are often seen in large groups.  They live primarily in the western part of North America but do winter further south, even as far south and east as Florida.

I was thrilled to get these behavior images today. I hope to see more of the American White Pelicans before they leave for the winter.

Mia

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