Friday, May 6, 2011

American White Pelicans; Early April Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

The black wings are very visible on this American White Pelican coming
 in for a landing, Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/2011 
By early April another wave of birds start arriving into Northern Illinois. Among this wave are the American White Pelicans. Northern Illinois is on the eastern edge of their migratory route, so it is always a treat to see them in one of our lakes, ponds, or rivers. American White Pelicans often use the Mississippi flyway as a prime route for both their Spring and Fall migrations, and can be found in large squadrons (check my 8/11/10 post http://northernillinoisbirder.blogspot.com/2010/08/american-white-pelicans.html ) on the Mississippi River. Once in a while they venture a few more miles east and can be seen on the Rock River and at Nygren Wetlands Preserve, IL, which is where we saw a few small pods (or pouches, or scoops, or squadrons as flocks of Pelicans are often called) in early April (Above).  In winter, these Pelicans will be found along the Gulf Coast States as well as the southern Pacific Coast and into Mexico and central America. When we see them migrate through our area, they are on their way to their summer homes in shallow ponds, lagoons, and marshes of the North Central Plains States (Minnesota, Montana, North & South Dakota, and parts of Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon) as well as the Central Canada. They can also be seen spending their summers in Northern Wisconsin and along sheltered bays of Lake Superior. They find lake islands where they will build a primitive nest of debris and a low mound of earth.

A scoop of American White Pelicans sunning on a shallow sandbar,
Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/2011.
American White Pelicans are one of the largest of the boreal birds. They can weigh as much as 30 pounds and their wing spans can exceed nine feet. While standing or swimming., they appear all white, but in flight (Top) their black primaries and outer primaries are very evident. During breeding their legs, bills and pouch get a bright orange and they grow a rounded keel on their culmen (upper bill) (See Below). During non-breeding months (Sept - Feb), their bills and legs get a duller yellow as seen on my 8/11/10 and 8/12/10 posts about these magnificant birds.

The "keel" on the American White Pelican's culmen is prominent while in their
breeding plumage, Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/2011.
American White Pelicans are excellent fishers and often capture fish cooperatively by swimming in a long line, beating their wings and driving the fish into shallow water where they scoop up the fish in their large pouches, which can hold up to 3 gallons of water. Val and I saw a small pod of these Pelicans at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, WI, ( http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=32520 ) on Easter morning, where we witnessed them make a circle facing inward,surrounding a school of fish, then all dunking their heads simulataneously to scoop up the fish they trapped. After the fish have been caught the bill is pointed downward allowing the water to drain, and then the bill is raised and the bird swallows its meal. This is unlike their cousins, the Brown Pelican which catch fish by dive bombing from great heights.

I loved this capture of an American White Pelican just about to make its landing in Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL. Wouldn't it be awesome to have this magnificent bird nesting in Northern Illinois? 4/10/2011.
I have read in some sites that because of pesticides, human disturbance, and the draining of wetlands, the American White Pelican is in decline as the number of active colonies has dropped sharply in recent decades. However, I have also read that their population in Wisconsin is growing and in the future their breeding grounds may extend to include the upper Mississippi River, which for now serves only as a migratory route.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

The flock never left this year ... we see them every weekend just above the Starved Rock Lock & Dam.

Phyllis Sandra said...

I joyfully await the white Pelicans to our lake by LSU in Baton Rouge, LA.
on their way to the Gulf Coast, Mexico and South America. What route do they take on their return trip. We never see them going back to Illinois. How far can they fly in a day and how long is their trip each way.
Do all of the Pelicans wind up back in Ill.? Phyllis Sandra me@phyllissandra.com

jon said...

Phyllis,
White Pelicans generally do not spend their summers in Illinois but use the Mississippi flyway as their migration route to more northern and western homes in northcentral Canad (Manitoba and Saskatchuan and the northcentral and western states of Montana, the Dakotas, Idaho, wyoming, Nebraska and westren oregon and northern nevada; however, they seem to be thriving quite well, and may be stretching their breeding grounds to include the northern Mississippi River valleys of Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesoa.

jon said...

Oops - sorry about all the misspellings in my response. I accidently sent it off before I could edit.

Susan Bedsole said...

HI Jon,
I live in the northern part of Florida near the Alabama line. I am a caregiver for an elderly lady who lives on the shores of the largest natural lake in the state of Alabama (Lake Jackson, Florala, Alabama). I was lucky enough to spot one of these pods of Pelicans floating on the lake. I ran for my camera and managed to take a few pictures. Although I was unaware at the time of what they were, by posting on Facebook, one of my high school friends was able to identify them.It was a thrill to be able to see them in person!

Unknown said...

Hello,
today (sept. 24th, 2012) there is a large flock of pelicans on our lake here in Decatur, IL. In searching for an answer to my kids questions I came across your site. Any ideas as to why they are here? Three years ago we had two pairs spend their whole summer with us & it was attributed to a tropical storm changing their migration. Is this the case again?
Thank you!
Sharon

Anonymous said...

Approximately 30 white pelicans on Lake Conroe, Conroe & Montgomery Texas, these have been here for months, in increasing numbers every year.

Anonymous said...

Well I seen a group of 25 white pelicans in a pond today in Dahinda, Illinois. Wow!

Anonymous said...

We saw about 200 of these magnificent birds yesterday about 5 pm in the Dubuque, Iowa, 14th Street water basin. Amazing sight!

Darrell said...

3-4? dozen white pelicans resting at the Rock River, Dixon, IL for several days now. Darrell

Anonymous said...

Quite a large pod of white pelicans at Westlake, near Winnebago,IL for the past two days. They were here for quite some time last year. Interesting that in the past five years, we've had either the brown pelicans or the white ones; never both the same spring. Really enjoy them and hope they stay around. Seems late for a migration.
Glenda

Anonymous said...

I also live at Westlake and they have been here for two weeks now. We have counted as many as 70 birds and the numbers are increasing instead of decreasing. If mature birds eat 4 pounds of fish per day, it won't be long until our small lake is void of fish. Any ideas on how to move them along so they don't become permanent residents? I can envision them moving back and forth between Nygren, The Pec River and here.
Ron

Anonymous said...

The first full day of spring (March 21, 2014), there are a few hundred of them in several groups between Credit Island Park and the Davenport, Iowa side of the Mississippi. There is still some ice on the water, and a couple of thousand of several types of waterfowl in total there.

Anonymous said...

I just saw hundreds of them off the bridge in fox lake I'll rt.12 Very cool to see.

Anonymous said...

Just saw 40 or so pelicans at Lake Bloomington, Bloomington, IL. There were a couple hundred there this afternoon.

Laura Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Lake Walloon in Plainfield Illinois is the current home to about 20 beautiful white pelicans. According to a few neighbors this is the first time they've ever stopped by. They've been here about 2 weeks now. Wondering how long they'll stay? I love watching them but if I fished I probably wouldn't be enjoying them as much!

Anonymous said...

We just saw several 100 in the Illinois river off the Rte 39 bridge.

Kim Shaffer said...

I have lived on the Chain O' Lakes in Northern Illinois for27 years. A few years ago i was pleasantly surprised to see the pelicans come to the Chain. Currently I on Fox Lake in the Chain O'Lakes and have had the pleasant surprise when I went to work this AM of seeing 20+ feeding in the lake in front of my house. It was beautiful. Hope they are still htere tomorrow.

Unknown said...

I saw a huge number of what I think were white (or brown) pelicans, wheeling overhead trying to decide where on Lake Travis to overnight, last week. I counted one flock of more than 100, and after that just guessed by flocks, I saw more than 10. Tonite only a few flocks, but large numbers nonetheless. VERY enjoyable to watch them in formations...

Paul said...

I have a vacation home on Lake Wisconsin (a reservoir on the lower Wisconsin River near Prairie du Sac). White Pelicans showed up last year and stayed for months. They are back again this year in force (several hundred). What a treat.

Does anybody know if this is a breeding colony? They seem in no hurry to leave.

Anonymous said...

Not a birder....but saw large v formation different from geese. Got binoculars and noticed they were Pelicans...16 birds in formation flying south direction in line with the Fox River. 16 years here first time for Pelican sighting. Geneva Illinois
5:35 pm 3/29/15

Anonymous said...

I live in Iowa in Muscatine County, fish in Rock Island County where for past 5 yrs or so, have seen an incredible, increased amount of white pelicans, especially at Hampton Dam, Arsenal Island, Sunset Marina, and Credit Island all along the Mississippi.

Unknown said...

They can be seen in central IL all summer long in the shallow backwaters of the IL river

Shane Spears said...

They can be seen in central IL all summer long in the shallow backwaters of the IL river

Anonymous said...

There are seven of them right now on the Rock River in South Beloit, Illinois. Hopefully they will stay a few days. We noticed them for the first time a few years ago and many people thought we were crazy. Thanks for this information which is helping us learn why Pelicans can be seen in our area. We really enjoy watching them. Alice

Anonymous said...

There were several at the dam in Oregon, IL yesterday. They usually stick around for some time.

Anonymous said...

Just saw a pod come into Lake Decatur this morning. Magnificent flyers. Good sign for spring