We’re winding up the year sharing the most popular — and we hope most compelling — Flying Lesson stories from 2020. Most of the posts are profiles of bird encounters, including this story of a Great White Pelican that transfixed north Florida birders early this year when the species usually found in Africa and Europe showed up in the U.S. We’re posting one of the highlight pieces each Sunday this month.
It wasn’t a Great White Shark, but for Florida’s best birders, it may as well have been. When the first reports hit that a Great White Pelican – usually found in Africa or India – had been spotted in a wildlife refuge near Titusville, well, you can imagine what happened next.
This is one of the largest birds in the world with a wingspan that can reach 12 feet. And even though it has the strength to cross an ocean without stopping, people couldn’t quite believe it had somehow landed in Florida.
The first photo in early February showed a distant bird that looked like the American White Pelican, only much bigger with a striking orange and pinkish tint. There’s also a diamond-shaped patch of day-glow orange over its eyes.
Then came several sporadic sightings around the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a vast wilderness spanning 140,000 acres with one 7-mile road winding through. More often than not, the reports were of dashed hopes and a flock of regular pelicans seen from afar.
But the sightings persisted, and Florida Facebook birding sites lit up with speculation about the pelican’s whereabouts. So without much to go on, we drove up from our camping spot an hour south of Titusville to see if we could find this guy.