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Pelicans Visit Chicagoland for Spring Break

Unison by jpmatth

White Pelicans are just about hitting their peak numbers in Chicagoland. Practically nobody saw these big white birds a decade ago. Now you can see them every spring. Now you can drive 50 minutes from downtown Chicago and found up to 250 of these huge, exotic white birds in a tiny lake in a bland exurb housing development. 

The Daily Herald highlighted Nelson Lake in the Dick Young Forest Preserve, where they’ve been appearing for eight years. Kane County Audubon now says now they’ve left Nelson Lake–which was originally created by a beaver dam–and moved to nearby Carson Slough. On April 3 birders saw 133 white pelicans in this small manmade lake in a housing development right off the Sugar Grove exit from I-88.

Prairie State Outdoors says the 30-pound birds have somehow changed their migration habit so that they are increasingly showing up in Illinois, especially near the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. (Batavia is about 20 miles from the Illinois.) The white pelicans (also called Rough-billed Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)) travel between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada but they only stop in northeast Illinois in the spring and only in this one area.

Kane County Audubon’s Jon Duerr, who used to run the forest preserve, told WTTW says birds travel around 300 miles between breaks. They stop for a couple weeks to feed. They don’t dive like brown pelicans; they work together to herd fish. The  This year they arrived March 19 and they’ll probably be totally gone a month later.

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