I love photographing white birds — great egrets, snowy owls, swans and snow geese. The white pelican featured today is not normally seen in the eastern United States; sightings are very rare. One was seen at Cazenovia Creek in South Buffalo last year and another at Lake Alice a few years ago. When this bird shows up around here, it is because he got his directions mixed up while migrating back up north.
The white pelican winters in Florida, along the coastal states, South America and southern California, and nests in some of the western states, northern California and southern Canada.
I received a text last week from a friend who said there was a white pelican on Windmill Marsh in the Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area. I wasted no time getting over there, of course. I spotted him pretty far off in the big marsh but the spotting scope gave me good views.
The white pelican is a big bird, weighing 16 to 20 pounds but sometimes reaching 30. His wingspan is up to 10 feet. His bill, the area around his eyes, his legs and feet are orange. The primary feathers on his wings are black.
The white pelican's unique feature is his huge bill, which is 12 to 15 inches long. The top bill is flat and has a unique “horn” on it about about one-third of the bill's length behind the tip. That “horn” apparently has something to do with the courtship process, as it disappears on both males and females after nesting has started. The lower bill consists of a large throat sac, which is used to gather food. This guy swims along and dips his bill down into the water to scoop up small fish. He does not dive into the water to catch fish as the brown pelican does.
The white pelican's nest is a shallow depression scraped in the ground, lined with twigs, sticks, reeds and similar debris. After about one week of courtship and nest-building, the female lays usually two or three eggs. Both parents incubate for about one month. The young leave the nest three to four weeks after hatching, with often a 50% survival rate.
This bird was still being spotted last weekend and you may spot him from the fire tower on Albion Road or by taking the long hike to the back side of Windmill Marsh. I eventually got some decent photos, but not as close up as I had hoped.
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Hummingbirds are returning, so get your feeders up! I put mine out last weekend and within an hour a male was there. They remember from year to year where they are.
Be smart: Make your own hummingbird food. Mix one part sugar to four parts water (boiled first, if it's city water). No red dye is needed. I mix a couple quarts at a time and then refrigerate it. I also put a strip of masking tape on the side of the feeder and mark the date when it was last cleaned and refilled. The feeder should be cleaned and refilled every five days or more often if it's really hot out or the sun hits it a lot. It is very important to do this as the liquid can turn bad and harm the hummers. A smart move is to only fill the feeder with what will be used in five days or so.
Ants can become a problem at these feeders, as they seem to have a way of finding them. My feeders are hung just under a four-foot roof overhang and the little buggers still find them. I solved this problem by making water moats from fruit cocktail cups. Push wire through a hole in the bottom of the cup, so enough sticks out the bottom to make a hook, and make a loop on the top end for hanging the moat. Use silicon glue to seal the hole in the cup around the wire. Fill the cup with water and hang it above the feeder.
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Orioles are coming back, too, so get those grape jelly feeders up. I cut a piece of wood about 8 inches square and cut a hole in the middle to hold one of the fruit cocktail containers. Drill a hole in each corner, insert wire in each hole and twist the wires together to make a loop for hanging the feeder. Same deal as with the hummingbird feeders, be sure to clean and refill the container about every five days. You can use one of those “moats'' for the ants here, too.
I think we are in the clear with winter now, hurrah!
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or email@example.com .