An American White Pelican “horn”

/, Birds, Salt Lake County, Utah/An American White Pelican “horn”

An American White Pelican's "horn" An American White Pelican’s “horn” – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/3200, ISO 250, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light

The horn is a growth on the bill of American White Pelicans that occurs during the breeding season and I am fortunate to live in a location where these big, white pelicans breed. I am able to see them in both breeding and nonbreeding plumage close to home so for  period of time during the spring I am able to photograph American White Pelicans with their horns.  The horns are also called caruncles and they are a bony plate that might simply be a sexual ornamentation. This American White Pelican image was taken several years ago at a pond near where I live and I think it shows the horn very well. This is full frame and I wish I had zoomed back a little bit because it feels a little “tight” to me.

There are still a few American White Pelicans in the Salt Lake Valley and although most of them have migrated south it is possible to see them as late as December here or until the freshwater lakes and ponds freeze. Most of the big, white birds I will be seeing; and hopefully photographing, this winter will be Tundra Swans.



  1. Chris Rohrer November 14, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I just learned about the horn on these birds in February while visiting the Salton sea. Very interesting physical display.

  2. Julie Brown November 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Hi Mia,

    It is always exciting for me to see American White Pelicans. Very nice detail of the head and bill. It has been awhile since I left a comment, but I read all of your posts-usually on my iPhone.

  3. Elephant's Child November 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    How fascinating. And now my mind is full of questions – which I can see I am going to have to go away and investigate.
    Does the ‘horn’ simply disappear at the end of breeding season? Does it go gradually or drop off? Is the size of the horn an indication of dominance?
    Off to learn more – and thank you.

  4. Patty Chadwick November 12, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Thanks to Ron, found this in spam…not ideal, but better than not…will try to fix it. I’mmashamed to admit hat with all the years I lived in South Miami, I never questioned the knob on their bills…worse yet, may not even have noticed them! I spent more time looking down, onto the beach, into the water, than looking up…and missed so much!

  5. Montanagirl November 12, 2013 at 7:10 am

    That’s a terrific photo of the Pelican, and a good look at that “horn”.

  6. Bob Bushell November 12, 2013 at 5:24 am

    That’s a whopper Mia, glad you are living close to them. Beautiful bird.

Comments are closed.