They have been in some of the northern states and parts of southern Canada for a while, and in Wisconsin for at least a decade, nesting, for example, in Horicon Marsh and on Cat Island in Green Bay. But seeing 500 WHITE PELICANS near the mouth of the Manitowoc River last week, had me blinking repeatedly to clear my disbelieving eyes. Indeed, even with vision cleared, there they stood, more than five hundred, packed into a jostling, preening mob on the mud flats at the edge of the containment lake next to the North Breakwater. I’ve read that white pelicans occurred in Wisconsin in the summertime 100 years ago but that they were hunted to extirpation in the state. Why would anyone want to shoot a pelican?
My estimate, counting by 20s, of over 500 birds, was about 7:00 PM, June 17th. The birds standing around had retired from the day’s fishing with plans to spend the night on dry land, comfortably digesting the alewives in their bellies. Still more were arriving every minute, much to the inconvenience of those already on the ground. There is a rule of flight among birds, especially those with talons: The bird on a perch or on the ground, must yield, however disagreeably, to the airborne arriver who wants their particular place. Even talon-less, paddle footed but weighty white pelicans respect this rule and make way for arrivals. In a congested area, however, the rule may be difficult to honor. At the last moment, say, with six, maybe eight ponderous 17 pound late-comers on final approach, air brakes dropped, gliding at speed for the very spot upon which he or she is standing, what is a pelican to do? Forget the rule? Stay put? No! It panics, yielding space, getting out of the damn way, as best it can, shoving the neighbors aside if necessary.
In addition to the pelicans in the containment area, hundreds of gulls and terns, also sharing space on the flats, frequently take flight, as these birds do, wheeling about screaming and yelling, only to land again more or less exactly where they just left, creating a lively and noisy spectacle.
Still, white pelicans are good flyers and, with their nine foot wing spans can be seen soaring along in formations, their black primaries and secondaries contrasting sharply with their white bodies, making them easy to identify, in flight, even from a distance.
R T WALLEN