With winter we have the opportunity to see new visitors on
The white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) differs from our familiar brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in several ways. For one, they do not make aerial dives on their food like our brown pelicans. White pelicans feed while on the water surface, often in large cooperative groups to corral fish. They breed inland far to the north and migrate to the Pacific coast or the Gulf of Mexico or as far south as
In late spring and summer white pelicans breed in large colonies on islands in remote freshwater lakes in
We can easily see these colonies in winter not only on
Past use of DDT affected the reproduction of both white and brown pelicans. Despite improvements in recent decades, nevertheless, the brown pelican has disappeared in parts of its former range. Pesticides washing into coastal waters still threaten these birds, as well as habitat destruction. Both species are killed by entanglement in discarded fishing gear, especially monofilament fishing line. Boating disturbances and starvation during unusually cold winters add to population reduction of both species while in our bays. Nevertheless, both species are stable and slightly increasing in recent years following the drastic declines in mid-20th century from agricultural use of DDT.
Recently an avocet was spotted in the marsh. Even if you are not a birder – and this writer is not – the avocet will get your attention. (This elicited a whispered “Holy Cow!” by this observer.) This is the long-legged shorebird with the long, thin upturned bill. In profile this bird has a Bob Hope ski nose aspect.
Although not related at all – other than being birds –the American avocet (Recurvirostra
When feeding, they go along the marsh shore sweeping the bill from side to side stirring up small crustaceans. On bays and estuaries, they will also feed on exposed mudflats at low tide. This is a fairly tall bird – up to 20 inches – with blue legs. We do not get to see this bird with its pleasing rust colored spring and summer plumage on its head and neck. But in its winter plumage of light grey head and black on white body it is hard to miss. However, it is that slender, black, up-turned bill that makes it immediately eye catching.
Avocet eggs were once harvested on their breeding colonies and they were hunted to near extinction in parts of their former range along the Atlantic coast. Nevertheless, habitat destruction, especially the loss of wetlands in the western
Even if you are not an avid birder, and like me, prefer to just observe those birds with the good manners to stand or feed out in the open where they can be seen, winter is the time to see some truly remarkable visitors. If you are a birder, this area of the
Tom Baird has been a fisheries biologist, high school and community college teacher (oceanography and microbiology), director of a science and environmental center, teacher of science and principal in Pinellas County as well as an educational consultant. He retired from the Florida Department of Education and he and his wife divide their time between