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Yes, there really are pelicans in Will County; see for yourself at Pelican Watch!

A pelican comes in for a landing on a river where hundreds of other pelicans are floating.
(Photo by Chad Merda)

If you are unaware that pelicans visit Will County each year during spring and fall migration, prepare to get the lowdown on these big and beautiful birds during the annual Pelican Watch on Saturday, Sept. 23.

The free, family-friendly event will celebrate the return of American white pelicans to area waters with fun activities and live pelican presentations. The event is set for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon.

“Pelican Watch is a great time to visit Four Rivers to learn about this amazing bird and see it firsthand,” said Alexis Lyons, a Forest Preserve interpretive naturalist. “American White Pelican have already made their way to the confluence of the DuPage and Des Plaines rivers, preparing for the celebration!”

Pelican Watch will feature live pelican presentations by "Hoo" Haven at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Four Rivers Grand Hall. (Limited seating is available.) "Hoo" Haven is a Durand, Illinois-based wildlife rehabilitation and education center. 

Guided hikes will lead attendees to pelican-watching hotspots. And if you get hungry after hiking to see pelicans, Lil’ Deb’s Mobile Eats food truck will be on site to provide tasty treats for sale. 

This year’s Pelican Watch will include fun outdoor activities, too. 

“There’s something fun for everyone, s'mores around the campfire, jousting in an inflatable ring and learning about wetlands through a game of hopscotch,” Lyons said. 


The pelicans that stopover in Will County are different from their southern cousins, the brown pelicans that hang around Florida’s docks. American pelicans are white with black-tipped wings that are visible during flight.

In addition to being a different color, brown pelicans are smaller and they have different feeding habits; they 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.

American white pelicans can weigh up to 30 pounds and their wingspans of 8-10 feet make them one of the largest birds on the continent.

Their size and relative rarity in the Will County area, other than during migration, make them well worth celebrating each fall, Lyons said.

"These unusual birds are a sight to see with their oversized bills, large wingspan, and beautiful white-and-black feathers," she said. "We are fortunate that hundreds of these fascinating birds gather here at Four Rivers. Their visit only occurs twice a year during their migration to and from their breeding grounds. This unique experience is worth sharing with everyone at our Pelican Watch event!"

Pelican Watch is supported by funding from Alliance Pipeline, a joint venture of Enbridge and Pembina, and through the assistance of The Nature Foundation of Will County


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