The spectacular west Mexico sight of American white pelicans in flight


Hundreds of American white pelicans travel thousands of kilometers (miles) from the far north to settle in the welcoming warm waters of Lake Chapala and Cajititlan Lagoon in the eastern Mexican state of Jalisco.

Between November and April, these birds flee the intense cold of the United States and Canada to seek the warm climate on Chapala’s shores in the states of Michoacan and Jalisco.

This Mexican lake is considered a Ramsar site - a wetland site considered to be of international importance for having the right characteristics for preserving biological diversity - the reason this species finds it an ideal destination.


The area the white pelicans prefer is around the lakeside village of Petatan in the Mexican municipality of Cojumatlan, which has a high availability of fish like carp and bream.

Part of the flock keeps going to Cajititlan Lagoon in the Tlajomulco municipality of Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco.

The pelicans’ white feathers and bright yellow beaks become a natural spectacle for visitors to this lake who watch them from afar as they hunt for food or rest from their epic flight.

“They’re migratory birds that travel from the northern part of the continent to get here at Cajititlan Lagoon in search of refuge, food and rest in the winter season,” the Tlajomulco wildlife biologist and rescuer Cesar Moreno told EFE.

The American white pelican dwells and reproduces in the fresh waters of southern Canada and the northern United States.

It is considered one of the largest birds of North America, with a wingspan between 1.5 and 3 meters (5 and 10 feet) and weighing as much as 7 kilos (15 pounds).

The lush white feathers of a massive flight of pelicans has led locals to call them sheep pelicans (Pelicanos borregones), because from a distance they look like a big flock of sheep, the specialist said.

Though this avian is not in danger of extinction, it is considered a priority species for conservation because of its long migration, Moreno said.

The pelican flies in large flocks that disperse into small groups along the waters of Lake Chapala.

The birds rest, fly in formations and fish in the waters of this region where the locals and some tourists admire the flight of the pelicans as if it were a well rehearsed choreography.

Most of the groups choose Petatan, once an island and today a small village and center of the lakeside fishing industry between Jalisco and Michoacan, which has a sanctuary and natural park where the species is protected.

“Some flocks decide to stay close to the shops to feed on the fish waste from the local businesses, while others stay on the shore of the lake,” Morena said.

Specialists see the migration of these birds as a sign that Lake Chapala and Cajititlan Lagoon are still suitable for wildlife, despite the contamination they have suffered in recent years.

Moreno said the authorities want to promote this natural spectacle as a tourist attraction, similar to the migration of monarch butterflies.

This project would also seek to promote respect for the environment and the preservation of these and other species, though for now it is only a plan.