Theodore Roosevelt's Pelicans


If you cross the Wabasso Bridge to A1A in Indian River County, you may be lucky, as I was, to see a flock of perhaps 50 white pelicans floating on the river. They migrate here every winter from their summer breeding grounds mostly in the coastal gulf areas of Louisiana and Alabama. With a wing span of up to nine six feet, the white pelicans are much larger than the Florida brown pelican.

High fashion in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s dictated that women’s hats must be decorated with bird feathers. Birds such as pelicans and egrets were hunted nearly to extinction for their prized plumage. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt declared Pelican Island, a small four acre island in the Indian River just north of the Wabasso Bridge, a Federal Wildlife Sanctuary—the first of its kind. Today visitors to the Pelican Island Sanctuary can walk out to an observation tower to see the pelicans. They are large birds with up to 9 foot wing spans, much bigger than the brown pelicans that live here year round. For your nature journal, try to get out to see the white pelicans while they are here.

Literary Connection

“Birds should be saved for utilitarian reasons; and, moreover, they should be saved because of reasons unconnected with dollars and cents. A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral. The extermination of the passenger-pigeon meant that mankind was just so much poorer… And to lose the chance to see frigate-birds soaring in circles above the storm, or a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson afterglow of the sunset, or a myriad of terns flashing in the bright light of midday as they hover in a shifting maze above the beach-why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists of old time.”

from A Book-Lover’s Holidays in the Open by Theodore Roosevelt

Scroll to Top