Stunning American White Pelicans Cross Illinois | State and regional

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NARA SCHOENBERG Chicago Tribune

Pelicans in Chicago? More and more, the answer is yes.

The American white pelican – a snow-white obstacle that weighs up to 30 pounds – has been spotted at Calumet Lake in south Chicago. The birds were seen soaring over the busy Dan Ryan Freeway, the three historic Lincoln Park apartments and the manicured bungalows in the suburb of Berwyn.

But the best time to see them is now, during their semester migration through Illinois, when hundreds of people rest and refuel near the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon, 50 miles southwest. from Chicago, and thousands descend on reserves such as the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge. in Lewistown.

“It’s such a big bird and they’re soaring,” said Carl Giometti, board member of the Chicago Ornithological Society. “You can have thousands of them, and it’s just breathtaking to see them hovering and hovering in the wind just above you.”

An American white pelican named Amos has been living at the Bronx Zoo in New York City since late last year, after recovering from wing injuries.



As recently as the early 2000s, American white pelicans were so rare in Illinois that birders would walk for hours to spot one, according to American Birding Association webmaster Greg Neise, who observes birds in Chicago since the 1970s.

Theories abound as to why birds began to appear in greater numbers: Neise said pelicans, which traditionally breed in Canada and the Great Plains and migrate to the sunny Gulf Coast in winter, have started to breed in northern Wisconsin, near Door County. . He also highlighted the rise of the invasive Asian carp, an abundant food source for birds.

Others suggest that a storm may have knocked the Pale Giants – each with a wingspan of 9 feet – off their traditional routes.

What is clear is that the American white pelican, which was in marked decline in the 1960s, is more abundant – and therefore more likely to be seen in the Great Lakes region – thanks in large part to decades nationwide wetland restoration, according to Andy Forbes. , deputy chief of the Great Lakes for migratory birds at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The population of American white pelicans is now estimated at 180,000 in good health.

In 1966, the overall breeding population was estimated at 40,000. Now, the breeding population is estimated at 32,000 in Minnesota alone.

“It was a huge achievement,” Forbes said.

This year’s fall migrants have already started congregating near the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center, the closest location to Chicago for reliable large-scale observation. On peak days, 200 or 300 birds can be seen swimming in shallow water, according to Erin Ward, Forest Preserve District of Will County program coordinator.

“He’s an amazing animal,” Ward said. “They can smell things. If there’s a hurricane coming, they’re going to stay here a little longer because they know it.

With large orange feet and a towering beak that expands to absorb 3 gallons of water, the American White Pelican has been described – by its fans – as peculiar, gangly, and clownish. It has a strong fishy smell and seems too heavy to lift off the ground. Yet he is a formidable flyer, with volleys hovering smoothly in precise formations.

“The pelicans all line up and fly in the same direction,” said Neise.

“When they turn on an angle, you will see a flock of 100 or 200 birds up there – and all of a sudden they disappear, and when they turn around to not face you, they just reappear. It is as if they turn on and off in the sky.

The birds, which can fly about 3 km above the ground, learn migratory routes from their parents. There is therefore a good chance that the offspring of the pelicans calling at Channahon this year will follow the same route in the years to come.

White pelicans are larger than the more well-known brown pelicans, which are often seen in Florida; they also have a different range of habitats and do not dive from above for their fish.

The Will County Forest Preserve District is gearing up for a Pelican Day celebration at the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center on September 25, with guided hikes to sites where pelicans are likely to be seen, presentations, exhibitions and family activities. There’s no guarantee the pelicans will always be in the area, Ward said, but the birds typically stay two to four weeks in the fall.

And whatever the bird travel plans, there will be pelicans there. For the first time, “Hoo” Haven, a wildlife rehabilitation center, will bring two Ambassador Pelicans to the event.

The event is free, but registration for hikes and presentations is required by September 24. Ward recommends that those wishing to see pelicans call the education center on the morning of their visit to see if the birds are in the area. Birds are often easier to see in the afternoon, around 3 p.m., she said. Ward suggests bringing binoculars and a camera, and maybe a portable chair. The longer you stay, the better your chances of seeing pelicans, she said.

Over the past three to five years, pelicans have become a fairly common sight in Chicago in the spring, according to Giometti. At Calumet Lake, he saw up to 40 to 50 birds at a time.

Neise quickly checked off half a dozen places in Illinois where he saw the birds. For those willing to put in the effort, he said, there’s even the chance to spot them in cooperative fishing, in which the birds work together to gather their prey back to shore, then scoop up their prey. taken with their giant beaks.

“I fed white pelicans so close I got splashed with them,” Neise said.


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