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Illinois hunting and fishing

American white pelican photos by Chris Young

Pelicans take center stage

April 09, 2011 at 09:49 PM

Prairie State Outdoors



Spring migration is well into its second act with a month-long appearance by hundreds of American white pelicans on large lakes and rivers in central Illinois.

In late February and early March, the majority of ducks and geese moved through.

Now hundreds of American white pelicans with nearly nine-foot wingspans are here.

The pelicans are numerous enough that the small islands where they roost appear white.

Illinois hunting and fishing

They haven’t always stopped in central Illinois.

“They used to be just west of Illinois, but for the last 20 years, the whole population has seemed to spread eastward,” said Vern Kleen, a retired ornithologist and board member of the Illinois Audubon Society.

“And now on the Mississippi River and Illinois River and even in central Illinois where there are big lakes, pelicans seem to congregate,” he said.

People tend to be amazed by the striking birds.

“They say, ‘Wow. Pelicans in Illinois,’ ” Kleen said with a laugh.

H. David Bohlen of the Illinois State Museum said he is unsure how long the pelicans will stay.

A few might even be tempted to stay and nest, but they will be in competition with boaters soon.

“But when boating activity picks up, I expect they will move on,” Bohlen said.

On the Illinois River, American white pelicans still are around, but not in huge numbers.

The most recent survey at The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve in Fulton County put the number at 60.

Lee Albright, refuge manager of the Illinois River National Wildlife and Fish Refuges, said a “whole raft” of pelicans was hanging around one of the water structures where moving water created turbulence and possibly churned up fish near the surface.

American white pelicans take a long and meandering path to the breeding grounds, mostly in the north central United States and Canada.

About 20,000 pairs are estimated to breed in the United States and 50,000 in Canada according to The Complete Birds of North America published by National Geographic.

White pelicans often are seen fishing cooperatively so they can concentrate prey before dipping their bills into the water.

Bohlen said the pelicans have company, as thousands of double-crested cormorants move through.

Cormorants are dark fishing birds with hooked bills. They can be seen roosting in the trees above the pelicans resting on the ground.

A smattering of ducks still remains, he said.

Kleen said the next wave of migrants will be the songbirds that follow the hatching of insects and leafing out of the trees.

Just don’t look for big conspicuous flocks.

Tiny warblers, vireos and others will be using the wooded areas bordering the lakes and rivers.

Kleen said the peak of songbird migration will be the last week of April and the first two weeks of May.

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Illinois hunting and fishing

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