Black and White Birds in Flight

A juvenile wood stork in flight.

One of our blog readers requested that I do a post on a different species each day until the St. Augustine Christmas Bird Count on December 19. As I was thinking of which bird to choose today, I saw white pelicans flying overhead. There are three common species of birds with black and white plumage that can be seen in St. Augustine, Florida in the winter: wood stork, American white pelican, and white ibis. They clearly vary in size, but that can be hard to tell when they are in flight.

Wood storks are in the area year-round. They have black trailing feathers along their entire wing and a long, gray beak that appears pointed in flight. Except when landing, their long legs trail behind them while flying.

Wood stork in flight with long legs and pink feet trailing behind.
A wood stork revealing the stunning feathers on its wings. They appear green in this lighting.

White ibises have black feathers on the tips of their wings. They are the smallest of the three species with a distinctive down-curved bill. Juvenile birds are brown and gradually replace their brown feathers with white feathers. Brown or mixed brown and white birds in the flock will be a clue that you are looking at ibises.

White ibises in flight.
A close-up of a white ibis showing the black feathers on the wing tips.
A flock of white ibises comprised mostly of adults but there are a few juvenile bids in this mix.

American white pelicans are one of the largest birds in North America. When I see them swimming on the water, they remind me of swans because of their size. The have black trailing feathers on their wing but it only goes from the tip of the wing to about three-quarters of the way to the body. They have orange feet and an orange bill.

White pelican flying.
White pelican flying.

When I saw the birds flying overhead today, my first thought was wood stork, but the orange bill and feet identified them as pelicans. These three species are social birds and tend to be seen in groups. Occasionally these birds can be seen alone, but it is usually as they are moving to join their group. I will see wood storks flying alone as they arrive at our local pond to meet up with other wood storks. I was told by a naturalist that the black and white feathers help the birds to see each other regardless of the weather. Bright skies make it easy to see the black feathers and dark clouds make it easy to see the white feathers. It makes sense to me.

For those who are local, I will be at the Holiday Market at First Look the Artisans Market on Sunday, December 12 at 162 San Marco Ave in St. Augustine from 10-2. There will be live painting demonstrations, live music by local singer Miranda Batt, Old Town Specialty Jams tasting (and I can attest to how delicious), Spice and Tea Exchange mulled wine, holiday cookies, baked goods, coffee and tea, and a raffle drawing for a Christmas Radio Flyer Wagon. I will be there with my new book Basic Guide to Birds Found Near the Water in St. Augustine and framed canvas and torn prints for sale. Everything at my booth will be marked down 20%. I will have my remaining three 24×36 inch canvas prints (snowy egret, pelican, cedar waxwings) marked down also. Come visit.

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