Oct 23 2011
After Scott Kinsey reported an American white pelican at Pymatuning last Monday, curious birders have made the trip to see it.
If you who live in Florida or west of the Mississippi this may seem strange. What’s the big deal about a pelican? To Pittsburghers, pelicans are rare.
American white pelicans are inland birds who breed at brackish or freshwater lakes in western North America and winter on the Gulf and Pacific coasts. Even in winter they avoid the open ocean. Their migration route takes them through the Great Plains and intermountain West but their range map indicates no overland path to Florida.
How do they get there?
On very rare occasions they fly over southwestern Pennsylvania.
My only sighting in Pittsburgh occurred in June 2003. While looking for the Pitt peregrines I saw a dot in the sky heading south. It was a very large white bird with black primaries and a pale point where its head should be. PABIRDS helped me with the identification: American white pelican.
What was that pale point where its head should have been? Pelicans fly with their heads tucked in (shown above). All I could see from the ground was its beak!
Moral of the story: Keep looking up.
(photo by Chuck Tague)