For a month or more I have been receiving what I call “pelican briefs” from peninsula birders. My observation and documentation of a single American white pelican in 2010 was one of the first reports of this species on the Long Beach Peninsula.
American white pelicans have been on the increase annually on the Peninsula ever since, during the late spring and summer months. According to the most recent 2020 checklist of Pacific County, the American white pelican is still designated as hard to find, but usually seen annually. Eight years ago it was designated as rare in our county, which means there were just over five recorded sightings as of that time.
In 2019, over 200 white American pelicans were being seen fairly regularly in Young’s Bay in Clatsop County during the late spring and summer months, but a few much smaller flocks were being seen on the Peninsula in the Chinook and Ilwaco harbors and on Willapa Bay.
In 2020, a few hundred American white pelicans have been gathering to feed in the shallow sloughs left behind when the tide goes out on Willapa Bay. This species, unlike the brown pelican, feeds cooperatively. They forage in shallow salt or fresh waters, where several of them join together to herd and then scoop up their prey, according to the 2014 edition of Sibley’s guide.
Their prey, as I mentioned in last year’s update on the white pelican (Chinook Observer, Fall 2019) consists of mostly non-game fish, amphibians and crayfish. Most people mistakenly think they feast on young salmon. Because they are opportunistic, their diet changes with water levels and prey species abundance, according to the Cornell Ornithological Lab. Even though their preference is for fish, they will eat shrimp and other crustaceans , I wonder whether this known fact could be used to help Peninsula oyster businesses with the burrowing shrimp issue?
These majestic, large, white birds that fly high on the thermals and often in a “V” shaped formation are a sight to behold. They are the second-largest birds in North America, with wing span of at least 9 feet and a weight of 10 to 13 pounds. Some of you have reported that these magnificent birds have soared gracefully and close over your heads of late. They are truly a beautiful sight. I am grateful for all and any observations and photos that were sent my way.
So, thank you to all who have made “The Pelican Brief” of 2020 possible.
“Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.