The White Pelicans of Sarasota Bay

From our condo, on the west edge of Sarasota Bay, two white lines shimmer near the bay's central channel, giving the appearance of bright white sand spits.  On closer inspection, one finds that these are flocks of American white pelicans, joined by smaller numbers of double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans and various gulls and terns.  The birds choose to roost on these isolated islands since they afford protection from terrestrial predators.

American white pelicans begin to appear on the bay in November, arriving from breeding lakes across the Northern Plains of the U.S. and Canada; indeed, these majestic birds winter throughout Florida and along the Gulf Coast from South Florida to Mexico.  Those that breed on lakes of the Intermountain West generally winter in Southern California and the Baja region.  Once limited to areas west of the Mississippi, the Northern Plains flocks have been extending their migration routes eastward in recent decades and may now be encountered almost anywhere west of the Appalachians; a small number may even turn up along the Atlantic Seaboard.

Spending much of their day on the island roost sites, the white pelicans depart in small groups to feed on fish, often working together to herd their prey into the shallows.  While they do not dive for their meal in the manner of brown pelicans, they are not averse to hanging out with their cousins, attempting to steal fish that are brought to the surface.  The American white pelicans will grace Sarasota Bay throughout the colder months; some will head northward as early as February and, by late March, most will be gone.