What’s the deal with the white pelicans?

Lakeland’s iconic bird mascot gets an annual visitor in the form of Canadian pelicans.


White pelicans on Lake Morton | Photo via @silly_runner_girl

Lakelanders have two birds in their hearts: The swan and the snowbird. But what about the other flocks that inhabit local lakes and spots around town, like the white pelican?

Reader Tracy N. once asked us where the white pelicans come from each winter. While the royal avians made their way here via the Queen, the pelicans have their own story.

Weighing in as one of the biggest birds in North America, these migratory avians boast a 9 ft wingspan and flock to Polk County every winter. Unlike their relative the brown pelican, which inhabits the Sunshine State coast year-round, the white birds are typically found along the coast or inland along lakes and rivers. No wonder they make Lakeland home.

And, that’s just about all they do. While in Florida, the birds don’t nest or breed — that’s reserved for their home in Canada. They live off of minnows, panfish, sluggish bottom feeders, salamanders, tadpoles, and crawfish.

Unfortunately for our native waterfowl like swans, ducks, and geese, the pelicans’ size allows them to easily steal food from other birds — you might hear them squawk out low grunts to assert their dominance.

Aspiring bird watchers and lake regulars can check the birds out in person during Florida’s winter months before they migrate back to our neighbors of the north in March. To watch the white pelican, bird enthusiasts say the best spots to see them in action are Lake Morton, Circle B Bar Reserve, Lake Mirror, and Lake Hollingsworth. Happy birding.