Welcome Back to Florida, White Pelicans
Picture this. Exquisite large birds glide gracefully along the shoreline just inches above the water. If you weren’t looking through binoculars, you’d think you were watching a flock of swans. However, these beautiful birds are white pelicans.
Distinctive with snowy white feathers and also pink-tangerine-colored bills, they are often seen flying and swimming in groups. Shy in nature, they avoid open water and prefer isolated areas, congregating close together while remaining less social than their cousin, the brown pelican.
Florida’s white pelicans
There are plenty of things to love about Florida, but when the white pelicans arrive, they are thought by many to be one of the most spectacular sights to behold. Much like spotting other Florida wildlife (such as dolphins or manatees), they often elicit similar shrieks of delight.
White pelicans arrive in the fall and stay until late spring. So, now is a great time to start spotting them.
Brown pelicans are more common in Florida
The brown pelican often spotted on boat docks, concrete pilings, and nesting on mangrove islands serves as one of the state’s most iconic images … right up there with sunshine, beaches, and also palm trees. Brown pelicans float near fish cleaning tables and waddle along piers and also docks. They are also known for their acrobatic plunges, more like a “dive-bomb” headfirst into the water, filling their spacious bills with a fresh catch.
On the other hand, white pelicans usually find safer, less traveled environments, such as estuaries, lakes, mangrove islands — often within geographically protected areas.
If you are able to get close enough to white pelicans, you’ll also notice their unique food collection techniques. Working as a team, they collectively herd their prey, fluffing their wings to assemble and also gather the fish.
White pelicans collectively herd their prey
One of the largest birds in all of North America, they also possess an impressive nine-foot wingspan. In flight, their black wing tips are revealed (folded under while they are swimming) as they fly gracefully in formation.
While these snowbirds are seen throughout the state, there are many known (and lesser-known) places where you are likely to find white pelicans. Since they frequent less traveled places, you may want to go with a local eco-tour operator, as they often know exactly where to find them.
White pelicans are shyer in nature than the brown pelican
Several Authentic Florida readers have also shared the locations they have spotted these elusive white creatures.
Depending on where you are in the state, here are some recommended places for viewing:
North Florida Locations
Tallahassee – Lake Talquin State Park (Check out: Ten Authentic Things to do in Tallahassee, the & Other Florida)
Wakulla – St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge
Lake City – Alligator Lake
Fernandina Beach Harbor
Little Talbot Island State Park
Jacksonville – Mayport Village
St. Augustine – Matanzas & Tolomato Rivers (Check out: Step Back in Time in Charming St. Augustine)
Central Florida Locations
White Pelicans are often seen in and around protected waterways and various lakes throughout Central Florida.
Keaton Beach (south of Perry, on the Big Bend)
Gainesville area – Newnans Lake, Lake Wauburg (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, Lake Wauburg will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and open on Wednesday – Sunday from 12 pm – 6 pm. On Friday, December 18th, Lake Wauburg will close at 4 pm and remain closed 12/19 – 1/8. There is a limit of 200 visitors or 75 cars, whichever is reached first. Each UFID holder may bring up to 4 guests with a group size limit of 5 people total. The pavilion capacity is 20 people total. Boating and equipment rental may be limited due to increased cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Cypress Lodge is by reservations only. The Pavilion is first-come, first-served, and reservations. Water fountains and showers closed. The Swim Area is closed until March 16th. The Lake Wauburg South Shore will remain closed including the climbing wall and challenge course.) (Check out: Ten Awesome Things To Do in Gainesville)
Cedar Key’s Barrier Islands (Check out: Old Florida Charm: Authentic Cedar Key)
Ocala – Tuscawilla Park (Check out: Oh, Ocala!)
The Villages (retention ponds), Umatilla
Brockville – Mountain Lake
Homosassa Springs, Crystal River & Ozello – Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, the visitor center, trams, boats, reptile house, discovery center, and below deck of the Underwater Observatory are closed. Scheduled manatee feedings are at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Restroom availability may be limited. The Wildside Café and west entrance gift shop are open with limited capacity. All other park facilities closed. Visitors expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart.) (Check out: Swim with a Manatee and Experience Authentic Crystal River, the Soul of Florida)
New Smyrna Beach – Turnbull Bay (near U.S. 1 Bridges)
Oak Hill – Goodrich Seafood Restaurant, Mosquito Lagoon
Orlando – Lake Fairview, Loch Haven, downtown (Ivanhoe Village)
More Central Florida Locations
Eustis – Lake Eustis
Apopka – Lake Apopka
Ft. Pierce – Ft. Pierce Inlet
Titusville – Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (Start at the Visitor’s Center)
Melbourne – Viera Wetlands
Vero Beach, Sebastian – Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
Tampa – Hillsborough River State Park (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, to reduce contact, visitors can purchase single-day use admission online or provide exact cash for entry fees through a cash box system; no change is given. Due to local orders, facial coverings or masks required inside buildings for staff and visitor safety. The pool, restaurant, and gift shop closed. Bike and kayak rentals not available. Restroom availability may be limited. All other park facilities closed. Visitors expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart.)
Zephyrhills – Zephyrhills Park
Pinellas County – Fort De Soto Park (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, Reservations for park shelters can be made for 50 people or less at this time.), Boca Ciega Bay, Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, St. Petersburg Pier (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, the St. Petersburg Pier asks that you please wear a mask when visiting and maintain a six-foot distance from others. Wash your hands and/or sanitize them frequently.)
Lakeland – Circle B Bar Reserve, Lake Morton, Lake Mirror, and Lake Hollingsworth
Winter Haven – Lake Howard
Kenansville – Lake Marian
Bartow – Mary Holland Park
Lake Wales – Lake Kissimmee State Park (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, Lake Kissimmee State Park is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Cow Camp closed. The Cracker Shack is now open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Visitors expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart.)
White pelicans, Cortez Village, Star Fish Company Restaurant
South Florida Locations
Along the coastal areas, (but not open water), you’re likely to find white pelicans within lagoons, harbors or protected areas where they usually take refuge from crowds.
Bradenton – Cortez Village (off the Star Fish Company or also Cortez Kitchen), Robinson Preserve, Anna Maria Island (bayside) (Check out: Get Authentic on Anna Maria Island & Cortez Village)
Sarasota– Myakka River State Park (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, Boat tours, the restaurant, canopy walkway, and trails are available. Restroom availability may be limited. All other park facilities closed. Visitors expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart.), the Celery Fields, Nathan Benderson Park (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, Nathan Benderson Park reminds visitors to practice safe social distancing, to remain home if they have any signs of illness, and to wash their hands regularly with soap and water.), Sarasota Bay, Jim Neville Marine Preserve, Tidy Island in Sarasota Bay (Check out: Ten Awesome Things To Do in Sarasota)
Placida, Gasparilla Island (Boca Grande) – Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve/Gasparilla Sound/White Pelican Island (see below)
Punta Gorda – Alligator Creek Preserve
Pine Island – Matlacha, Bokeelia (Pine Island Sound)
Sanibel Island – J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (NOTE: Due to COVID-19, the Visitor and Education Center and offices closed. The Refuge is open in limited areas and also activities.)
North Captiva Island
Cayo Costa State Park (NOTE: due to COVID-19, Tram capacities and availability may also be limited. Visitor center and camp store currently closed. Visitors expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart.)
Marco Island, Cape Romano
Naples – Naples Pier
Everglades City – 10,000 Islands, Chokoloskee
Everglades National Park -Flamingo Outpost (Check out: Exploring the Extraordinary Florida Everglades)
Islamorada, Florida Keys – Robbie’s Marina
Cudjoe Key, Florida Keys – Blimp Road
Key West – Sandbar between Balast Key and also Boca Grande (Check out: Enjoy a Fun-Filled Weekend In Authentic Key West)
White Pelican Island, Gasparilla Sound
White Pelican Island (Gasparilla Sound)
On Florida’s west coast, near Placida, White Pelican Island has the largest population of white pelicans in the southeastern United States. Located within the Gasparilla Sound, as part of the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve (stretching from Sanibel Island to Englewood along Florida’s southwest coast), this “liquid park” also serves as a protected environment for sea life, fish nurseries, and also bird rookeries.
The best (and only) viewing of white pelicans at White Pelican Island is by boat. One of the local outfitters, Boca Boats also provides cruises that include a view of the island. If you do not want to go by boat, don’t fret! Often times you can still find white pelicans by heading to the fishing pier at Boca Grande Causeway. Just before the toll bridge you can pull off and park and walk out on the fishing pier to view the white pelicans swimming nearby.
View from Placida with pelicans off in the distance
Wherever you are – this is the time of year when you can start to see white pelicans. They are only here thru the Spring, so be sure to plan an outing in the near future. And when you do, whether it is your first encounter or one of many, you will be a little awestruck by these magnificent winged creatures.
Yep, just one more reason to love authentic Florida.