Whenever I turn the tour van alongside the Snake River and the guests get their first glimpse of that
iconic waterway, I am always waiting to hear someone exclaim, “Is that a swan? Wait, no. What is that?”
Nope, it’s not swan (although we see those, too), it’s actually an American White Pelican. Visitors to this area are often surprised to see pelicans in the middle of our vast country. Many people are familiar with their smaller, browner cousins the aptly named Brown Pelican. A little less familiar is this large, mostly bright white species.
American White Pelicans live in large inland river systems, like the Snake River, and large lakes like Jackson Lake and Yellowstone Lake. They live in mid-sized colonies (10-30 individuals, occasionally more) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem for their summer breeding season. They soar to great heights on thermals (rising columns of warm air) and can sometimes be seen up to 15,000ft!
They also fish cooperatively. By repeatedly dipping their beaks into the water, they herd fish into small schools that can then be scooped up into their great beaks.
These enormous birds are interesting and majestic summer visitors we look forward to seeing every year.