Pelicans In Colorado?

When my husband and I espied a flock of big, white birds while approaching Colorado’s Windy Gap Reservoir near Granby ten or so years ago, we first mistook them for swans. Upon closer scrutiny and after consulting our nature guide, they turned out to be American White Pelicans. Pelicans in Colorado? Apparently so!

During a time in my life when I had just started to pay more attention to wildlife in general, and to birds in particular, I associated pelicans with coastal areas. While it’s true that of the two North American species Brown Pelicans breed along the East, Gulf, and West Coasts, and White Pelicans overwinter on the West and Gulf Coasts, the latter also spread through the American and Canadian West during the summer months, where they nest in colonies on islands in large and shallow lakes.

Als mein Mann und ich vor etwa zehn Jahren eine Schar großer weißer Vögel bei der Anfahrt zu Colorados Windy Gap Reservoir in der Nähe von Granby wahrnahmen, verwechselten wir sie zunächst mit Schwänen. Nach näherer Untersuchung und Durchblättern unseres Naturführers stellten sie sich als Nashornpelikane heraus. Pelikane in Colorado? Anscheinend schon!

Während eines Lebensabschnitts, in dem ich gerade erst angefangen hatte, auf die Tierwelt im Allgemeinen, und die Vogelwelt im Speziellen zu achten, brachte ich Pelikane mit Küsten in Verbindung. Und tatsächlich brüten von den zwei nordamerikanischen Pelikanarten die braunen Pelikane sowohl an der Ost-, Golf- und Westküste, und Nashornpelikane (das Horn ist am oberen Schnabel nur während der Brutsaison sichtbar) an der West- und Golfküste, doch letztere besiedeln in den Sommermonaten auch die amerikanischen und kanadischen Weststaaten, wo sie in Kolonien auf Inseln in großen, flachen Seen nisten.

Cherry Creek State Park with its beautiful panorama/Cherry Creek Staatspark mit seinem wunderbaren Panorama

Since that first lightbulb moment, I have delighted in seeing these peculiar part-time Colorado residents time and again, being spellbound by their droll appearance and intriguing behavior without fail. Reminiscent of prehistoric beings, their bulky bodies are the shade of snow, except for coal-colored wingtips. Their wingspan can reach 62 inches and they sport orange legs, as well as an orange beak responsible for their scientific name (Pelicanus erythrorhynchos: erythro, means red in Greek, and rhynchus means bill in Latin). The lower mandible is equipped with an expandable pouch employed in scooping up fish. About 10,000 of these hard-to-miss avians spend the summer in our state, the vast majority on man-made reservoirs on the eastern plains, with smaller numbers flocking to our intermountain parks.

Seit diesem Moment der Erleuchtung habe ich mich an wiederholten Begegnungen mit diesen ungewöhnlichen Teilzeitbewohnern Colorados erfreut, deren drolliges Aussehen und faszinerendes Verhalten mich unweigerlich in ihren Bann ziehen. Prähistorischen Wesen gleichend sind ihre massigen Körper weiß wie Schnee, bis auf kohlfarbene Flügelspitzen. Ihre Flügelspannweite beträgt bis 157 Zentimeter, und sie tragen orangefarbene Beine sowie einen orangefarbenen Schnabel zur Schau, der für ihren wissenschaftlichen Namen verantwortlich ist (Pelicanus erythrorhynchos: erythro bedeutet rot im Griechischen, und rhynchus Schnabel im Lateinischen). Der Unterkiefer ist mit einem ausdehnbaren Sack ausgestattet, mit dem sie Fische schöpfen können. Etwa 10.000 dieser schwer zu verfehlenden Vögel verbringen den Sommer in unserem Staat, ein Großteil an künstlich angefertigten Gewässern in den östlichen Plains, während geringere Scharen in die intermontanen Hochebenen strömen.

Find the lone Snowy Egret! 🙂 / Finde den Schmuckreiher

Social animals that eschew solitude and coordinate their actions with those of their neighbors, they frequently fish and fly in formations that have been called military, but if there is a time and place when I don’t want to be reminded of humankind’s martial tendencies, it’s during immersions in nature. I prefer to call it synchronized swimming and soaring.

During my return trip from Denver in mid-September, when I was already awed by my new acquaintance with the Groove-billed Ani (whom I introduced to you here), I visited Aurora’s Cherry Creek State Park, host to hundreds of non-breeding pelicans each year. With my cup previously filled to the brink, spending time in the presence of large numbers of these inspiring creatures made it flow over with pleasure and gratitude.

Sie sind gesellige Tiere, die Isolation meiden und ihr Handeln mit dem ihrer Nachbarn koordinieren. Oft fischen und fliegen sie in Formationen, die als militärisch bezeichnet werden, doch wenn es einen Ort und eine Zeit gibt, wenn ich nicht an die kriegerischen Tendenzen der Menschheit erinnert werden will, ist es bei Aufenthalten in der Natur. Ich nenne es lieber Synchronschwimmen und –segeln.

Als ich mich Mitte September auf der Rückfahrt von Denver befand, und bereits von meiner Begegnung mit dem Riefenschnabel-Ani (von dem ich  hier schon berichtete) überwältigt war, besuchte ich den Cherry Creek Staatspark in Aurora, der alljährlich Hunderte nichtbrütender Pelikane willkommen heißt. Mein Herz war vorher schon randvoll, und die Zeit, die ich mit diesen inspirierenden Kreaturen verbrachte, ließ es mit Freude und Dankbarkeit überfließen.

66 thoughts on “Pelicans In Colorado?

    • Dankeschön, lieber Jürgen, es freut mich, daß Dir der Beitrag gefallen hat. Auch wenn diese Vögel bei uns in freier Natur vorkommen, ist es trotzdem immer etwas Besonderes, sie zu Gesicht zu bekommen.
      Sei herzlich gegrüßt,
      Tanja

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  1. Beautiful, albeit improbable birds. Thank you for sharing: they look great against the blue of the water and the sky. In case you’ve never heard it, here’s a classic birders’ joke about pelicans: QUESTION: How do you turn a pelican into a late 20th century American soul artist? ANSWER: Whack it in an oven at 190 C until it’s Bill Withers! Sorry to defile your wonderful blog with such tasteless banter, but I’ve been carrying that joke around for years and like to get it out for an airing every now and then! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for giving me retrospective permission to tell a tasteless, obscure and dated joke! 🙂 Your post also brought to mind the limerick that begins “A wonderful bird is the pelican … ” I’d always assumed it was written by a Brit (what about that for an example of shameless cultural appropriation on my part?) but I’ve just checked it out on Wikipedia and it’s by an American called Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879–1972). I’ve never heard of him, but he was certainly a man who knew his pelicans. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Moin liebe Tanja,
    ab und zu verirrt sich auch hier einer der schönen Vögel an die Weser zum Beispiel.
    Dann ist die Ornithologische Welt in großer Aufruhr 😅
    Sonst kann man sie leider nur in Zoos und Tierparks bewundern.
    Gerade heute habe ich seltenen Nachwuchs in Hannover vorgestellt.
    Deine Aufnahmen sind prächtig und dein Bericht sehr fein zu lesen.
    Lieben Dank dafür und liebe Grüße von der Brigitte aus Bremen

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dankeschön, liebe Brigitte. Ich kann mir vorstellen, daß die Aufregung groß ist, wenn so ein Pelikan plötzlich in der Weser schwimmt. Das ist so, wie wenn bei uns eine Kurzschnabelgans auftaucht, wie das im vergangenen Winter der Fall war!

      Den schönen Rosapelikan im Zoo von Hanover habe ich bewundert, interessant, daß er größer als seine Eltern ist.

      Liebe Grüße zurück in Deutschlands Norden.
      Tanja

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  3. How wonderful that you get to experience them closer to home rather than having to travel to the coast…although visiting the coast would be delightful too. That’s quite a flock. Most of the images I see of them is a lone bird sitting on a wharf post, tossing a fish in the air, or the like. I didn’t realize they congregate in such large numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s very impressive to see them cluster in large flocks, Steve, and even when they don’t fish or soar, there is always something going on that makes it entertaining to watch. And you are right-visiting the coast would be delightful, and I hope to manage it sometime soon, as I have yet to see Brown Pelicans, among many other coastal birds!

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  4. When we lived in D.C., it was exciting to go to the Virgin Islands and see endangered brown pelicans. Fortunately, they recovered and were common when we moved to Florida. Then, like you, we didn’t recognize a white pelican on Grand Tetons Lake in Wyoming when we first saw it. A pelican in Wyoming; who knew? Now you show them in Colorado too — who knew?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Like you and many other people, including several previous commenters, I’m surprised to see pelicans so far from any coast. And speaking of previous commenters, because no one has quoted Dixon Lanier Merritt’s famous limerick, I guess the task falls to me:

    A wonderful bird is the pelican,
    His bill will hold more than his belican,
    He can take in his beak
    Enough food for a week
    But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Beautiful writing, beautiful birds! Makes me want to travel to Colorado just to see them. However, being a homebody and a green bean, I will have to content myself with looking at your terrific pictures and reading your wonderful writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. WOW, how awesome of a find and to learn they return year and after. Colorado winters must be wonderful for them! The White Pelican is a beautiful bird, I love their stark white and those massive pink/orange beaks. Gorgeous shots, Tanja!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Donna, I love them, too. But I apologize if I gave the impression that they are spending winters in Colorado. There are always a few that do, but most of them migrate to the coasts in late fall, and return to Colorado in the spring.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ja im Zoologischen Stadtgarten auf dem Wasser sehen sie auch bei uns beeindruckend aus. Und sie sind dort auch immer zu ganz vielen in einer Gruppe zu sehen und ich habe schon viele Fotos von ihnen gemacht 🙂
        Hier ist heute “Foggy London” bei – 3 Grad Celsius morgens, aber es soll wieder wärmer werden. Liebe Grüsse zurück von Steve und mir 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I love Pelicans, not so much for their ungainly bodies, but they way they spread their wings, fight with each other, fly and of course, catch fish in those enormous gullets.

    (The other reason is their size which makes them much easier to photograph than the tiny fast-moving birds).

    You’ve made some really nice photos of them too. Seeing them in such great numbers in the wild would be worth a few hours observation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Vicki, one could while away hours in their presence. Watching them sit and preen for extended periods is very relaxing, yet extremely entertaining. And to see them sail across the sky as if choreographed is always a special treat.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You’ve captured them beautifully. Aren’t they magnificent? When I heard they fly through here in early spring I was surprised, too, and over the next few seasons I stood on lakeshores hoping for a glimpse. Finally I did and was so excited. When they are here they have big processes on their bills~probably a mating season decoration that evidently falls off later. Such a coincidence~I was just updating the image of the painting I did of them this morning!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I first learned about the tendency of white pelicans to roam when a friend in Calgary found and photographed large flocks of them. It’s been about two weeks since I saw them wheeling into our area. They’re here in the winter, although the flock I’ve always enjoyed has had to move on because of substantial road and bridge construction. That’s no problem for the birds; there’s plenty of water and pilings for them, but it means I have to work a bit to find them.

    You might enjoy a post I wrote that includes the history of the famous limerick, some musings on poetry, and a whole collection of images of fiberglass pelicans that decorate the street of the local town where the pelicans used to roost.

    We have great colonies of brown pelicans here, too. They often fish in the marinas where I work, which makes for great entertainment — except when they dive so closely they splash water on my fresh varnish.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The pelicans stop for a week at our containment pond (across the road from our house) before journeying north to Colorado and beyond. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes but then researched them. Beautiful shots!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Tanja – Thank you for the information about pelicans. I didn’t realize their wing spans could be 62 inches wide. We have pelicans in Montana. However I have never been able to get such lovely photos of the majestic birds. Thank you again for another lovely post. -Jill

    Liked by 1 person

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