American White Pelican lifting off

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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


  1. patty chadwick October 21, 2013 at 6:51 am

    Interesting companion photos of Browns and Whites for comparison. Thanks for doing that and sharing them.

  2. Ronnie October 19, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    I just love Pelicans. Your American ones are different looking to ours. But prehistoric looking as are ours. I have hundreds of photos of them and laugh at all the different poses. Have you got the yawning pelican shot. Ronnie from Australia.

  3. Elephant's Child October 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Pelicans always look like an aerodynamic mistake taking off, and a triumph when they are in the air. Gorgeous photo – thank you.

  4. eric c11 October 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    it s a very good capture, excelent position like thaht
    and thanks for the explications about the horn on the bill too, i discover this with you
    thanks mia =))

  5. Utahbooklover October 19, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Beautiful bird and nice capture with your camera Mia. I’ve often wondered about that horn on the bill — thanks for explaining.

  6. Sally Wood October 19, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Beautiful capture! Most shots focus on the classic, but unique, pelican look – with the bill down. This is really splendid. I like that you teach as well, with information about the animal. I thought at first the growth on the bill was a fish tail sticking out the other side. Thanks Mia.

  7. Stu October 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Great Action Shot and love the strong colors.

  8. Gary DeFeyter October 19, 2013 at 7:11 am

    Nice. We start getting them here in our part of Florida around Thanksgiving. Circle B gets about 5,000 of them and you can get very close to them.

  9. Montanagirl October 19, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Excellent photo. We have them around here all summer long. They are awesome birds and I enjoy watching them in the water too, as well as in flight.

  10. Bob Bushell October 19, 2013 at 5:59 am

    Nice Mia, and taking off, brilliant photo.

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