If You Spot a Large White Bird in the Okanagan This Spring, It’s Probably One of These

You'd never think these winged wonders would venture this far north, but they're actually a common sight in the skies above B.C.

Pelicans in BC lakeTom Skinner

Each year in both spring and fall, large white birds fly over the Okanagan Valley. Many people see them and wonder what they are. Many guess pelicans at first, but usually dismiss their initial guess, because they aren’t 100 per cent sure that you can find pelicans in B.C.

It’s happened for years, and reports of pelicans landing in Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon, Nicola Lake and Shuswap Lake all support the fact that these birds are on the migratory flyway en route to the Chilcotin, most likely in the Stum Lake area. Initially a protected area, and home to White Pelican Provincial Park, the birds have been reported to have been nesting in the region, including the Puntzi Lake area; others have been observed on Anahim Lake, and other Chilcotin lakes as well.

In the past few years, the water level at Stum Lake has been lower than normal, which has allowed predators to get closer to the nesting sites. Reports of breeding pelicans have increased on Puntzi Lake, where in previous years the birds have been reported to be fishing on a regular basis.

Pelicans in BC in flightTom Skinner

The birds shown in the photos here were taken at Kin Beach in Vernon B.C., in the spring. You will notice a large, orange horn or plate on the beak, about a third of the way up on their bright orange bill. It is found on both male and females during breeding season, and will disappear once the eggs have been laid.

Frequently, pelicans are also found on Shuswap Lake in numbers of 20 or more, and it is possible that they have flown in after failed nests in the Chilcotin. In the fall these large white birds will return to California or Mexico for the winter. Large numbers of pelicans also winter in Klamath Falls, Oregon. American white pelicans are one of a group of birds known to do their fishing in groups. They move schools of fish into shallow water to a location that allows the pelicans to scoop them up in their pouches. A pelican can hold up to about 12 litres of water and fish in its pouch.

From what I understand, it’s estimated that more than half of the world’s population of white pelicans are found in lakes and rivers from British Columbia to Manitoba.

Here are more Okanagan birds worth adding to your bird-watching list.

Originally Published in Our Canada