Photo from Wikipedia.
The American White Pelican is one of only two pelican species that are native to North America. A striking white bird with a 9-foot wingspan and bright orange bill, an American White Pelican can weigh up to 30 pounds – making it one of the largest species of boreal birds. Now is the time to observe these majestic creatures for yourself. Large flocks are currently migrating through the areas surrounding Northfield in their annual journey northward from the southern coasts surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. Although many people equate pelicans with a maritime lifestyle, White Pelicans defy this stereotype. Although they winter along the coast, White Pelicans migrate to inland areas in the spring and construct their nests on the ground.
Mating season arrives with the advent of spring, and is accompanied by an intriguing change in bill structure. Male and female pelicans alike develop “horns”: prominent protrusions that span nearly 1/3 the length of the bill. These horns are shed after the female in a mating pair lays her eggs. To date, little explanation has been provided as to why pelican bills undergo this physical change, as horns are neither sexually dimorphic nor apparently used in acts of aggression. It is, however, possible that pelicans select their mates in part based on horn size.
In short, I encourage you to get outside and enjoy the season. Just ask the pelicans – the time is ripe.
-Marie Schaedel ’15, for the Cole Student Naturalists