So what’s the deal with those big white birds?

If you live in Missouri, perhaps you are wondering about those huge white birds with orange beaks and black-tipped wings that are gracefully flying up and down the river or swimming around your local reservoir.   

Clearly, they were not here thirty years ago. So, what’s the deal with these guys?

These huge birds, known in the scientific world as “pelicanus erythrorhynchos,” are white pelicans. Currently, they are in the process of migrating from the Gulf Coast to their summer breeding grounds in Canada and for the next two months or so, you will begin seeing them a lot.

Bill Hoagland

Although these birds have been in existence for more than 30 million years, their migratory route appears to be moving further east in the last few years and that is why they are now being seen in places where they did not previously go, such as along the Mississippi River in addition to the large reservoirs in Missouri such as Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks.

The white pelican is one of the largest birds in North America; it has a wing span of nine feet and can weigh as much as 30 pounds. Despite its size, the white pelican seems to be remarkably buoyant both on the water and in the sky.   

This is no illusion; the white pelican actually has air pockets in its bones and beneath the skin that help it sit so high on the water and glide so effortlessly in the sky. These air pockets are believed to be periodically “inflated” by the pelican’s respiratory system, although the mechanics of how this happens is not completely clear.  

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