Yellowstone: White Pelican

This is part of a series of posts about wildlife we saw in Yellowstone National Park during our June vacation in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The American white pelican is a large, white aquatic bird that breeds in the interior of North America. Pelicans have a large throat sac to store fish that they catch. Although the population of white pelicans declined in the mid-20th century due to shell thinning (DDT) and habitat loss, the white pelican rebounded and is now stable. The above pair of white pelicans is climbing out of the Yellowstone River after fishing. They then proceeded to take a nap. The four pelicans below were soaring above the Hayden Valley.

white pelicans in flight
white pelicans in flight

We watched these six pelicans fish together at Pelican Creek. Unlike the brown pelicans that inhabit the California coast and dive for fish, white pelicans hunt for fish while swimming. White pelicans hunt cooperatively, forming a circle to corral the fish and then ducking their heads to fish at the same time. Here they duck their heads at the same time.

white pelicans fishing in unison
white pelicans fishing in unison (click to enlarge)

And two seconds later, they come up together.

six pelicans coming up
six pelicans coming up (click to enlarge)

Being large and heavy, it takes time for a pelican to take off from the water. Here two pelicans are taking off, stepping on the surface as they take off.

white pelicans taking off
white pelicans taking off (click to enlarge)

All our pelican sighting were in the Hayden Valley or Pelican Creek where it joins Yellowstone Lake.  All photos were at 400 mm.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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