American White Pelican lifting offAmerican White Pelican lifting off – Nikon D200, f7.1, 1/2500, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 280mm, natural light

American White Pelicans are graceful in flight and I adore seeing them in huge squadrons soaring on the thermals especially when they rise and fall in formation and seemingly disappear from the sky for a few seconds to reappear with the light bouncing brightly off their white plumage.

For the first few seconds of lifting off though American White Pelicans almost appear to be clumsy. They push off with their webbed feet from land or water and flap hard with those huge wings. If you are nearby when they take off from the water their wings slapping the water can sound quite loud. This American White Pelican was taking off from a pond near where I live in Salt Lake County and I happened to click the shutter when its wings were extended upwards and when its feet had just slapped the water, to me it almost looks like the pelican is skiing.

The growth on the bill is called a horn or carbuncle is actually a fibrous epidermal plate that these pelicans exhibit during their breeding season.

In Florida I would only see these massive American White Pelicans during their nonbreeding season and I had a difficult time getting close enough to them to achieve high quality images but here in Utah where they spend their breeding season in high numbers I have been fortunate to obtain the images I had previously only dreamed of. Certainly this isn’t the best of my images of these wonderful pelicans but I do enjoy how this shows at least a snippet of the movements that it takes for a rather large bird to achieve flight from the water.


Taken in 2010