For approximately one week in early April, Maple Lake in the Cook County Forest Preserve turned into Pelican Pond. Each day there were well over seventy American White Pelicans swimming, flying and foraging at the lake. For this brief week in April these white feathered birds were like angels floating on a small blue heaven in southern Cook County.
Like a knight to its king, an American white pelican spreads its wings outward and curtsies to another unimpressed pelican. The water bird rises out of the lake in an effort to gain the attention of its aloof companion.
People often think of the pelicans only as seacoast birds but they are typically only thinking about Brown Pelicans. American White Pelicans differ from their coastal cousins in several ways;
color, habitat and hunting method. White Pelicans are inland birds and can be commonly observed throughout the Midwest during their migration. They migrate as far north as Alberta Canada which is their primary breeding ground.
The American White Pelicans cooperatively search for fish in shallow lakes and marshes. They coordinate their swimming to herd fish toward shallow water. Once the fish are driven together, pelicans use their large bill to easily scooped up their prey from the water. It is quite a sight to see pelicans bill-dipping for their dinner.
Pelicans are also one of the largest North American birds with a 9-foot wingspan. Though their size can make a pelican’s landing into water can look clumsy, these birds are spectacular fliers. They ascend into the sky wheeling and circling in unison until they reach incredible heights. Their spiral flight patterns are an amazing sight to see.
My time with the pelicans ended by watching several squadrons take flight. In an unforgettable coordinated display, these angels soared into the blue heavens changing Pelican Pond back to Maple Lake.