Sanibel Island's a long way from the Nile, but a great white pelican has appeared at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge there — a good 4,000 miles from its home range, and the first time the Old World species has been recorded in North America.
Unlike the more common brown pelicans seen in Southwest Florida, which max out around 11 pounds and have a 6 1/2-foot wingspan, or even the larger American white pelican, which winters here, these birds can tip the scales at 33 pounds, with an almost 12-foot wingspan.
First spotted Sunday, the stray pelican immediately made waves in the birding community, including among "Ding" Darling staff, who promptly made it the refuge's Facebook cover photo.
“A magnificent bird,” declared refuge wildlife biologist Jeremy Conrad.
Low-tide birding at 'Ding' is always excellent this time of year, “but this sighting just adds another level of excitement here at the refuge,” says supervisory ranger Toni Westland.