Capturing American White Pelicans in Flight

I recently had the privilege of photographing majestic American White Pelicans at the Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam near Sallisaw, Oklahoma. This area provides a great vantage point to capture these striking birds in flight as they follow schools of shad fish through the dam gates in the fall and winter months. However, photographing here poses some challenges. I often park in the south dam parking lot, which situates the rising sun at my back as I face the water. But traversing the large boulders along the steep bank with camera gear can be tricky. For this outing, I opted to only bring my camera and lens, leaving the tripod behind.

American White Pelican Taking Flight At Kerr Dam
American White Pelican Taking Flight At Kerr Dam

Though accessing the area with gear is difficult, the photographic rewards at this spot make it worthwhile. Watching a pelican float serenely on the water before taking flight is a majestic sight. Capturing a crisp shot of its massive 9-foot wingspan outstretched as it soars skyward makes the challenges accessing this spot well worth it.

A few interesting facts about the American White Pelican:

  • The American White Pelican has a wingspan of about 95-120 inches. It is one of the largest birds in North America, with a similar overall length to the trumpeter swan, and has an overall length of about 50-70 inches.
  • American White Pelicans take flight by running across the water’s surface, flapping their wings, and then lifting off into the air.
  • They are powerful fliers and can soar with incredible steadiness on broad, white-and-black wings.
  • They form large flocks during migration and while feeding. It’s an incredible sight to see a group of them gliding in unison above the water.
  • They often fly in a long line, with their wings flapping in unison, and can travel long distances during migration.
  • They are also known to fly in a V-formation, which helps them conserve energy during long flights.
  • During flight, their necks are folded back, and their legs trail behind them.

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to photograph these incredible birds in their natural habitat. Capturing their bright white plumage against the blue water as they take flight is an amazing sight.

Gear Used:

  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon EF 800 mm f/11


  • Location: Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam (Oklahoma)
  • Date and Time Taken: November 13, 2021 (10:30 A.M.)
  • Program Mode: Manual
  • Aperture: f11 (Fixed)
  • Shutter speed: 1/2500
  • ISO: 1600 (Auto)
  • Exposure Compensation: 0
  • Focal Length: 800 mm

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