While they can be spotted at other Forest Preserve lakes, including Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve in Plainfield and Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet, pelicans arrive in fairly large numbers at McKinley Woods.
“They tend to hang out in the confluence of the DuPage and Des Plaines,” Ecker added. “So when you pull into the preserve, they are on the left-hand side as you drive into Kerry Sheridan Grove.”
Ecker said the easiest way to see the pelicans is to stroll through the preserve.
“When they are here, it doesn’t matter what time of day. You will see some flying and some swimming.”
These pelicans are different from their southern cousins, the brown pelicans that hang around Florida’s docks, said Chris Gutmann, a Forest Preserve facility supervisor who oversees McKinley Woods.
In addition to being a different color, brown pelicans are smaller and they have different feeding habits. They plunge-dive to catch fish, Gutmann explained. 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.
American pelicans are white with black-tipped wings that are visible during flight. They can weigh up to 30 pounds, making them one of the largest birds on the continent. Their body length of 50-70 inches (including an 11-to-15-inch beak) rivals that of the massive trumpeter swans, and the pelican’s average wingspan of 8-10 feet is second only to the California condor, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) website for McNary National Wildlife Refuge in Washington.
The USFWS calls white pelicans “clowns of the bird world” because of their “goofy” appearance on land that features clumsy webbed feet and rumpled-looking feathers. Once they take flight, however, the birds “become graceful and even elegant,” the agency continued.