Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE WHITE PELICAN is a large grotesque water bird which breeds on the inland salt lakes of the Great Basin in western United States. There is a small colony of white pelicans breeding at Molly Island, Yellowstone National Park.

This bird has a length of about 5 feet, a wing spread of 8 to 9 feet, and a bill about a foot long. Its general coloration is mainly white, but the tips of the wings are contrastingly black.

Frequently the pelican has difficulty rising from the water. In taking off, the bird springs into the air and, for a distance of about 50 feet, both feet are kicked backwards into the water at each stroke of the wings, their toes spread to give a surface of large resistance. When sufficient momentum and altitude has been obtained the feet are drawn up and extended behind the bird. In flight it assumes a rather rigid position with head thrown back, resulting in a crook in the neck.

The pelican's nest usually is a depression made in gravel or sand with a slight foundation of sticks and weeds. Here one to three dull white eggs, about the size of a common goose egg, are laid. As a rule two eggs are laid in each nest. During the nesting season, one adult pelican of each pair stays on the nest to incubate and guard the eggs. Close watching is necessary because gulls are always on hand to pounce upon any unprotected nest and as soon as a brooding pelican is frightened from its nest the gulls rush in to break and eat the eggs. For this reason, the National Park Service has endeavored to prevent unauthorized visitors from landing on the islands in Yellowstone Lake which the pelicans use as nesting sites because a large number of gulls nest nearby, sometimes right in the pelicans' rookery.

Because of their fish-eating habits pelicans have been much persecuted by man. For instance, there is considerable antagonism on the part of fishermen because, they claim, these birds destroy many trout and other game fish. While pelicans do eat many fish, investigation shows that most of the fish taken are the so-called "rough" fish or species that are slow in movement and, for the most part, not game fish. Moreover it is felt that the pelicans, by destroying these rough fish, automatically assist the trout by providing a more abundant food supply for them—food which would otherwise be eaten by the rough fish. Therefore, by their destruction of the rough fish the pelicans in a large measure compensate for the trout and other game fish which they eat.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010