The white pelican is a common sight at J. Clark Salyer NWR. Its unusual long, flat bill and large throat pouch makes this bird an easily recognizable species. It weighs up to 20 pounds and has a wingspan of 9 1/2 feet!
The white pelican nests in large colonies. The female generally lays two eggs in a bowl-shaped depression on the ground. However, white pelicans can lay up to four eggs or only one. Egg incubation involves both parents and takes about 29 days. The chicks are born naked and flesh-colored. At 10 days old, the chicks are covered with thick, white, downy feathers.
The main source of food for white pelicans is fish. They will also feed on salamanders and crayfish. The chicks, however, receive the "special of the day" by feeding on partially digested food the adults regurgitate. As odd as this may sound, the young chicks feed directly from the adult's pouch, almost burying its head in the throat of the adult.
As the young continue to grow, they learn to fish on their own. And of course, pelicans have the best "net" for catching fish. As a white pelican swims, he lowers his large throat pouch into the water and scoops up the tasty morsels of fish. Occasionally, white pelicans cooperate with each other and fish together.
Pelicans seen at J. Clark Salyer NWR are not nesting birds. They are non-breeders or birds on feeding flights from their nesting colony. They use the refuge as a nesting and feeding place.
Willow Lake National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of J. Clark Salyer, has an established nesting colony of white pelicans and Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, located northwest of Jamestown, North Dakota, has one of North America's largest nesting colonies of white pelicans.