Mention that you saw a pelican in a Will County Forest Preserve, and you might get an argument out of non-believers who think this species only roosts on the East Coast.
But the massive white birds do flock to some Will County waterways each spring and fall as they migrate north and south, said Chris Gutmann, facility coordinator at Isle a la Cache Museum
in Romeoville. Gutmann is in charge of Lake Renwick Heron Rookery and Nature Preserve
in Plainfield where the American pelicans mingle with herons and egrets and other rookery visitors.
“It’s one of the continent’s largest birds,” Gutmann said of the pelicans. “You can’t miss them.”
These pelicans are different from their southern cousins, “the ones you find hanging out on a dock in Florida,” Gutmann said. Those are brown pelicans that plunge-dive to catch fish. American white pelicans don’t dive. They use their numbers to corral fish and then they scoop them up into their beaks.
“Their pouches hold up to three gallons of water,” Gutmann said. “They’ll throw their heads back to swallow fish or drop their heads down to let the water drain out.”
The American pelicans are white with black tipped wings. Each year they can be found fishing and floating in Lake Renwick or the Des Plaines River near McKinley Woods in Channahon.
“The ones that come through here are going from the Gulf of Mexico to the Dakotas or up to Canada,” Gutmann explained.
Rita Renwick, president of the Will County Audubon Society, said residents of some areas of the county have a better chance of seeing pelicans than others.
“People who live in Channahon might be more familiar with them, since they have been seen on the Illinois & Michigan Canal in Channahon, but most people don’t realize they are here,” she said.
American pelicans are one of the world’s largest species, Renwick said. The birds are around 62 inches long and have 9-foot wingspans. Audubon society members first reported seeing migrating pelicans at the lake in 1990.
“Within the last 15 to 20 years, white pelicans have been seen with ever greater frequency in our area, especially in the wide-waters area near McKinley Woods – Kerry Sheridan Grove
,” Renwick said. “March and April are the usual times to see pelicans in our area, but some come through in the fall also.”
If you would like to view pelicans in the fall as they rest from their migratory trek at McKinley Woods, there will be a “Pelican Pursuit”
hike on Saturday, October 15. The Forest Preserve also offers other bird watching opportunities throughout the fall and winter. View the complete program guide
for details. Photo courtesy of Carol Cooley