The Pelicans Arrive

American white pelicans, Lake Hemet (11/14/20) Jeff Brown

American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) have begun to return to Southern California.

Jeff Brown spotted this migrating pair at sunset at Lake Hemet in the San Jacinto Mountains (Mountain Center).

The Cornell Lab reports that there are fewer than 60 colonies of the birds. In summer, these colonies are dispersed broadly across the midwest and west at inland lakes. Breeding areas are in specific parts of midwest Canada and in western states.

White pelicans are particularly fond of California; large flocks of them are seen regularly inhabiting lakes in Southern California’s mountains, the Central Valley, the Sierra Nevada and the Salton Sea.

As autumn ends, they migrate to Southern California and winter at lakes in the mountains and along the coast.

Fascinating to watch both soaring and feeding, the graceful, prehistoric-appearing white pelicans – considered to be among the largest of North American birds – have the unusual habit of cooperating while feeding. They are known to dive together to drive fish toward shallows where they corral the fish and scoop them up.

At this time of year, white pelicans will forage almost exclusively during the day, which provides good opportunities to watch them from shore or boat at inland lakes. Brown says they provide fascinating entertainment for winter campers at Lake Hemet.

They are wary of people, however. A good strategy is to approach only until they back away, stand or ruffle feathers. Should they exhibit any of these behaviors, back off as that’s an indication they’re about to move away.

  • Lake Hemet Campground, Mountain Center (4,340′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!