Saturday, February 18, 2012

White Pelican Migration

A short time ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the rescue of an injured White Pelican. 

The Pelican had become stranded on a small pond near the Portage de Sioux power plant.  It had broken its wing, and so could not fly to warmer waters if the small pond froze, although it had survived for a brief time on the fish living in the pond.  We successfully rescued the bird, but the event caused me to reflect on the amazing lives that Pelicans lead and the annual migration patterns that eventually brought this individual to its fate.
Rescuing an injured White Pelican earlier this year
American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) begin their lives near the shallow, glacial lakes found in the Upper Midwest Plains and Southern Canada.  Pelicans nest in large breeding colonies to help protect each other from predators.

When early Fall arrives, the Pelicans leave the northern breeding grounds and travel towards the Gulf Coast of the Southern United States.  Their routes take many of them along the Mississippi River and over the St. Louis region.  White Pelicans, along with many other migrating bird species, take advantage of the unfrozen water found near the large hydroelectric dams in our area. 
The Riverlands in Alton, IL is a great place to see migrating White Pelicans
A great place to spot White Pelicans this time of year is in the Riverlands Area in Alton.  The pond where we rescued the white pelican is located near a floodplain commonly used by migrating pelicans.  That individual likely became injured when its flock stopped to rest and feed.  When the rest of the flock moved on, this bird became stranded.
The pelicans spend the winter along the warmer waters of the Pacific and Gulf coasts.  They tend to avoid the open ocean, preferring instead inland lakes and estuaries. 

I always feel amazed when I consider the incredible journeys that birds regularly make to survive.  Traveling across a substantial section of the globe twice a year as a lifestyle is extremely perilous, as the injured pelican demonstrated. 

I felt privileged to participate in a small way in one of the most amazing rhythms of life on earth.

 Submitted by Leah Sainz, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer


Anonymous said...

We have been watching a single white pelican in a neighborhood pond for a couple of weeks. Today we discovered there are now two. Sadly the pond is nearly dry because we have had no rain for months. I keep watching and hoping they make their way north soon.

Anonymous said...

Today Dec. 10, 2012 at 11:00 AM PT a flock or colony of White Pelicans (about 10 birds) arrived in San Marcos California and landed in a small pond on the 14th hole of Lake San Marcos golf course!
Is this unusual at this time of the year?
It was a magnificent sight!
They circled the pond and landed in order. Then gathered in a line,and ended in a circular formation.

Photog said...

WBS Director Jeff Meshach replied to Anonymous' 12/10 comment as follows: "I know White Pelicans migrate up and down the Misissippi River flyway, and am not too surprised to hear they also winter in CA, especially on big lakes. The behavior this you describe makes me think these pelicans have landed on this pond, or maybe other golf course ponds before this event, to catch fish. Sounds like they immediately went into the fishing formation I have seen on video footage and also read in text."
Congratulations on being fortunate enough to see this beautiful beautiful behavior first-hand!