RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas — Gliding gracefully in with their nine-foot wings spread wide, the vanguard of White pelicans are arriving in the Rio Grande Valley.
The recent cold front has triggered a plethora of migratory birds winging it southward to warmer climes, and none is more distinctive than the White pelican with its large size, snow white feathering and jet black wingtips.
White pelicans are among the largest birds in North America, with their nearly ten-foot wingspan and weighing some 15 to 20 pounds, but despite their size they are enchantingly elegant fliers.
This group of approximately 1,000 White pelicans is taking advantage of extensive wetlands at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge east of Rio Hondo. They breed in large colonies as far north as central Canada. In the fall the majority migrate to coastal regions of California and along the Gulf of Mexico with some traveling as far as Guatemala.
There is a unique breeding colony in Texas in the upper Laguna Madre, and not only is it the only breeding colony in the state, but also the only group of American white pelicans that breeds in a marine environment.
Whether this group arriving in the Valley is from the upper Laguna Madre or distant North Country is unknown, but the good news is that you don’t have to venture far out into the wildlands to see these beautiful birds as they frequent local resacas throughout winter months.
Unlike our resident Brown pelicans, White pelicans do not dive, but rather swim leisurely along dipping their large pouched bills as they scoop up fish.
Often congregating in small groups, they cooperate with one another to corral prey, and each bird can easily consume more than four pounds of fish a day.
What a pleasure it is to watch these magnificent birds performing their wonderfully choreographed aquatic ballets throughout our Valley waterways.