Sunday morning found me at one of my favorite spots in search of Wilsons Warbler images. I had my hopes up since I had two missed opportunities on Saturday to capture a nice image of one. Once I slogged my way through some muck and brush, I was ready but got distracted by some splashing noises in the bay. I started to move a little closer to see what was going on when I spotted a couple of American White Pelicans feeding on the other side of a brushy peninsula. Suddenly the two Pelicans turned into group of twenty. Not being able to cross some deeper water to get within camera range, I moved along the shoreline to a spot where I waited and hoped they would swim my way. It did not take long before the group moved in front of me and put on a show as they were feeding. White Pelicans feed in a group as they work together to corral bait fish before plunging their huge bills into the water to scoop them up and toss their heads back to swallow down their catch. Once in a while, a few would fly a short distance to leap-frog in front of the group maybe to get in better feeding position.
Populations of American White Pelicans have rebounded from lows in the mid-twentieth century and have grown at roughly 5 percent per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a tenfold increase, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Waterbird Conservation for the Americas estimates a global breeding population in excess of 120,000. The species rates an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is assigned a status of Moderate Concern. They are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. These shy pelicans are highly sensitive to human disturbances at their breeding colonies and readily abandon nests. They used to be shot either for sport or from the idea that they competed with humans for fish—though they are now understood to take fish of little commercial value. However, as their numbers have grown, their spring migration stopovers at catfish aquaculture ponds in the Mississippi Delta have increased, and shootings there have increased. Historically, human disturbance and destruction of foraging and breeding habitat have been major threats. Water management on the breeding grounds has effects on pelicans, too, since they depend on shallow wetlands. Either permanent flooding or permanent draining of wetlands renders those habitats inhospitable.