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The Buzz

Happening Now: Hundreds of Pelicans Return to Channahon

Pelicans at McKinley Woods — Kerry Sheridan Grove. (Photo by Chad Merda)

Good news for avid birders — the pelicans are back around Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon, having been spotted on the DuPage River and other local waterways multiple times this week.

The pelicans that pass through Will County each spring and again in the fall are American white pelicans, one of the largest birds in North America, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. These large white birds are clunky and awkward on land, but are good swimmers and graceful flyers. In flight is where they reveal a secret as well: The pelicans appear all white on land or in water, but in flight reveal jet-black feathers on their wingtips that starkly contrast their otherwise-white plumage. 

In the spring, the pelicans travel through Will County on their annual migration north from the Gulf of Mexico to their breeding grounds in the Dakotas or Canada. They'll return to the area again in the fall, usually in late September, as they make the return trip south. Typically, the pelicans arrive in Will County in March and will stay in the area through May, then can be seen again from September through November. 

The number of pelicans seen locally can vary throughout their stopover periods, and, as with all wildlife, there's no guarantees they'll be present at any given time. At times this spring, more than 100 of the birds have been seen at the Kerry Sheridan Grove access point, with recent counts of 200 to 300. They are also sometimes spotted at Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet and Lake Renwick Preserve in Plainfield. Away from the preserves, another pelican hot spot is along Front Street by the boat launch in Channahon. 


Many people aren't aware pelicans make regular appearances in Will County, because the American white pelicans are the lesser-known cousins of brown pelicans, which live along the ocean and gulf coasts in the southern United States. The American white and brown pelicans are among about a half-dozen pelican species in the world, all of which have the long bill and throat pouch for which they are known, National Geographic reports. 

Unlike brown pelicans, which dive into the water for food, American white pelicans eat from the water's surface. They dip their bills into the water to catch fish and other aquatic animals, sometimes upending themselves into the water like dabbling ducks do, the Cornell Lab reports.

American white pelicans have long, orangish-yellow bills. During the breeding season, the adults grow a horn-like or plate-like projection on the top of their bills, but this projection is shed by the end of the breeding season, according to Cornell Lab.



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