Is This American White Pelican Flying With Its Bill Full?

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American White Pelican in flight with bill full?

American White Pelican in flight with bill full?

Yesterday I posted a pair of Clark’s Grebes rushing at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in September and I did that because I thought it was odd seeing their breeding display so late in the year. The photos I took weren’t great because the grebes were pretty far away. I’m glad I took the photos if for nothing more than to document those grebes performing their late rushing ceremony.

Earlier in the morning the light was pretty cruddy because of tons of smoke being in the air, so much smoke that even though the sun had risen over the Wasatch Mountains not much of the warm morning light was getting through. I’d bumped my ISO up to 640 just in case there were birds on the north side of the auto tour route at the refuge that I wanted to photograph hoping for enough shutter speed.

There were thousands of American White Pelicans out on the marshes that morning and some of them took off as we drove towards the west. I tried taking photos of them although even as I clicked my shutter button I knew the chances of obtaining high quality images were slim to nothing but I still fired away as the big white pelicans flew through the smoke-filled air.

When I got back home and reviewed the images I had taken that morning one of the flying American White Pelicans in my cruddy images caught my eye because its bill didn’t look like the others. I had taken just five images of that had that particular pelican in them and in all five images it looks like the bill of that pelican is full of something, perhaps water or prey? Maybe it looks full because of air flowing around its bill and because the pelican has its head pointed down instead of straight out like the other pelicans flying near it.  But if the pelican does have something in its bill maybe that is why it is flying with its head drooping down towards the ground?

I just don’t know but I do know I have never seen an American White Pelican in flight with its bill looking like this ever before and I have photographed them hundreds of times in flight.

American White Pelican adults consume food on the feeding grounds and regurgitate it for their young, they don’t fly with with food in their bills. The young pelicans that hatched here in northern Utah this year are flying to the feeding grounds and feeding on their own now any way.

I really don’t know why this one American White Pelican appears to by flying with its bill full but I have puzzled about it for several days. I can’t find any documentation or photos of this species flying with something in its bill. Even though these are terrible photos they all show the bill of the pelican looking odd compared to the rest of the pelicans.

I have made a composite of all five images in sequential order and posted it below to show the pelican’s bill and head angle. I wish now that this pelican had been closer and that I had been able to capture higher quality images of it flying past because that might have supplied more information on what was going on with this American White Pelican.

Crappy photos, for sure, but interesting behavior and I am glad I was able to document it.

Life is good.


American White Pelican flying with bill full?

American White Pelican flying with bill full?



  1. Elephants Child September 9, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    That is just plain weird. I hope that some of your knowledgeable commentators can fill the rest of us in.

  2. Laura Culley September 9, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    And here we are again with more questions than answers! Like you, I don’t have a clue. Sigh…

  3. Patty Chadwick September 9, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Very strange….unsettling….

  4. April Olson September 9, 2017 at 10:15 am

    It’s pouch looks oddly extended in some of the photos. I have never seen a pelican fly with it’s head down. The last one it is pulling it’s head up. I hope it does not have something wrong or stuck in it’s throat/mouth preventing it from swallowing a catch. It’s rough out there for the sick or handicapped.

  5. Florrie September 9, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Perhaps the bill is misshaped due to a birth defect..but then I guess it wouldn’t have survived very long. Anyway great shots as always!

  6. Nicole Haller-Wilson September 9, 2017 at 8:03 am

    That’s wild! What unusual pictures!

Comments are closed.