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Desert Diary
Birds/American Pelican


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Dams along the Rio Grande have done both immense good and immense harm. Among the pluses is the appearance of birds that presumably showed up only sporadically, if at all, before man-made lakes were created. If you are lucky, you might see a group of huge, white birds with a broad strip of black feathers along the hind part of the wing. Even a blasé bird watcher may find the pulse quickened on encountering the American Pelican. Elephant Butte Reservoir and Caballo Lake form relatively stable bodies of water along the never reliable river.

The American Pelican, a fish eater like the other members of the order Pelecaniformes, fishes while swimming in small groups—a very different style from the coastal Brown Pelicans noted for their spectacular plunge-dives from the air into the sea. Of course, once seen, even an amateur can't mistake a bird showing a long, yellow bill with a great leathery pouch hanging below for anything but a pelican. With apologies to the author, "A wonderful bird is the pelican, whose bill holds more than his belican".
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest. rule

Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

American and Brown pelicans

American and Brown Pelicans, Pelican Island National Wildlife Reserve, Florida. Photograph by George Gentry, courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.



Ligon, J. S. 1961. New Mexico birds and where to find them. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 360 pp.

Web Resources

Centennial Museum Chihuahuan Desert Site