Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bird of the Month: American White Pelican

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchus) is a heavy-bodied bird with characteristic long bill that supports the unmistakable large bare throat pouch.  This species is a typical member of the Pelecanidae: large, mostly white with black flight feathers and with preferences for freshwater habitats.  At this point, you may notice that this description does not fit our usual species in Panama and Latin America, the Brown Pelican (nor the Peruvian Pelican, sometimes considered conspecific).  But the truth is that, worldwide, most pelican species fit very well the above description.
American White Pelican
In Panama, the American White Pelican is a very rare vagrant.  With only three confirmed previous sightings, the appearance of one mature individual right here at the Panama City waterfront two weeks ago was huge news.  Since then, many local and visiting birders have seen the magnificent beast almost daily, making this sighting the most documented in Panama so far.
American White Pelicans
At first glance, the difference are quite obvious.  This species is appreciable larger than the common Brown Pelicans, and the obvious different plumage and soft-parts colors make it to glow!  Other differences are less obvious.  This species does not feed by plunge-diving; rather, they feed cooperatively driving the school of fish to swallow water, where they scoop-them easily...  It makes me wonder about the fate of a single individual; however, the Panamanian bird have been seen feeding alone, scooping little preys along the surf.
American White Pelican
In their usual range, these are freshwater birds; in Panama, all the records have been in the coast or very close to it (as seen in the photo of the two birds seen in Punta Chame -central Panama- in 2011).  There is no clear pattern of vagrancy for this species in Panama... we are quite far from their usual winter distribution, so we must seize every opportunity to see this bird in our country!  For these, and many other reasons, is why we chose the American White Pelican as our Bird of the Month!
American White Pelican
Literature consulted:
1.  Angehr G, Dean R. The Birds of Panama. A Field Guide. Zona Tropical 2010.
2. Family Pelecanidae. In: del Hoyo J, Elliot A, Sargatal J, Christie DA & de Juana E (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Editions, Barcelona (retrieved from on 01/01/2015.

1 comment:

  1. Excelente documentación, gracias. Creo que cuando están "wintering" favorecen las aguas costeras.