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Zoo Welcomes Pair of American White Pelicans

American white pelicans
The pelicans are enjoying their new home in the African Savanna Habitat.

Posted October 2021

The Milwaukee County Zoo is happy to announce the addition of two American white pelicans to the African Savanna habitat. The pelicans arrived at the Zoo in July from REGI, the Raptor Education Group, Inc., in Antigo, WI. They made their debut in the African Savanna habitat a few weeks ago. American white pelicans are cold intolerant, so they will soon move indoors for the winter when overnight temperatures drop below freezing and will return to the habitat next spring. The last time pelicans were included in MCZ’s population was 1965!

American white pelicans
Interns at REGI learn how to care for a pelican. Photo credit: Raptor Education Group, Inc.

The pair of pelicans were found injured in the wild during their last migration and were moved to REGI. It is likely that they were flying from the Gulf Coast, where they overwinter, to Canada to breed when they flew into powerlines, or the cables that support powerline towers, and broke the distal portion of one of their wings. These breaks healed on their own, but their wings were misaligned, leaving them unable to fly.

Although their injuries were already healed, being unable to fly, the pelicans could not reach their breeding grounds or forage for food. They were very thin when they arrived at REGI, and they used their time there to gain weight. REGI does not have the space or resources to house very many large, fish-eating birds like pelicans, so when they reached a healthy weight, they were transferred here.

American white pelicans are some of the heaviest flying birds in the world. They rely on their large wings to soar great distances in large flocks. American white pelicans feed from the surface of the water, often hunting fish communally by circling their prey before plunging and scooping fish out of the water. They spend much of their time on the coasts, but they mainly breed in inland areas.

Powerlines are responsible for millions of avian deaths every year. Larger, less-maneuverable birds like pelicans are particularly susceptible, as are birds that migrate at night. Other types of collisions can be even more deadly. You can learn more about bird collision abatement here.