Birds of a different feather in area
October 5, 2012 3:36PM
A portion of the white pelican flock was captured on camera in the I&M Canal between Countryside Drive and Canal Road in Channahon. | Kris Stadalsky ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 9, 2012 6:04AM
We’re used to seeing a lot of Canada geese around Channahon this time of year as they search for just about any open body of water, whether it’s a retention pond or a small lake.
But I got to see a flock of white pelicans on the Illinois and Michigan Canal last week, thanks to an alert from my neighbor Ron Kijowski. Ron lives along the canal, and it’s the first time he’s ever seen the white pelicans there, so he called a few neighbors to give an opportunity to see them.
They are usually seen in the area of the canal called the wide waters, said Rita Renwick of the Will County Audubon Society, which is a bit farther east than where we saw them in Channahon. They can also been seen in the water on the eastern tip of the Kerry Sheridan Grove (formerly Moose Island).
The pelicans got a little farther away by the time I got down there, but it was still something neat to see.
I could see them stretching out their huge wings and I got a good view of their unique beaks, even from where I was.
The pelicans are on their way to the Gulf of Mexico for the winter, Renwick said.
Some have even been seen staying the winter as far north as St. Louis, according to Jo Fessett of the Illinois Audubon Society, because of the warmer weather we’ve been having.
The white pelicans have historically flown along the Mississippi Flyway, one of the migration patterns of birds, as they went north and south. In the spring they’ll head up to the Dakotas to nest.
“For some reason, they have been moving farther east since about 2000, so we are seeing them in our area,” Renwick said.
The Starved Rock Foundation does a spring bird count on the first Saturday in May each year, Renwick said. One pelican was spotted in both 2008 and 2009. In 2010, 10 were recorded. By 2011 their numbers had risen to 418 and this year it was up to 440.
When you see the birds from far away, you don’t realize that they can have a 9-foot wingspan. They typically weigh 11 to 20 pounds, but can get as heavy as 30 pounds. When they are in the water, you don’t notice the black feathers under their wings, but when they take flight it’s noticeable.
What’s really unique about white pelicans, said Renwick, is the way they fly. They all fly together, turning, curving and swirling as one unit.
“It’s just a really neat thing to see,” she said.
I took the opportunity while speaking with Renwick to ask about the extraordinary amount of Canada geese we also get in Channahon.
Just down the road from me, about a quarter mile, the geese congregate to Lake Shokakana. They get so loud some evenings and mornings I can hear them inside with my windows closed. While they are a beautiful sight, we all know the noise and the mess they can leave for us.
Canada geese like any type of body of water, whether it’s detention ponds or power plant cooling lakes. They also like the short grass that grows around them.
One thing she’s heard, said Renwick, although it’s not scientifically proven, is they don’t like the tall cattails; perhaps because they can’t see predators.
So if you have an area that you’d like them to keep out of, it might be worth a try to plant the 10-foot ones.
For those interested in seeing the pelicans, they may still be around for another week depending on the weather. You can get to the wide waters by turning on the southwest frontage road off of Bluff Road in Channahon, which curves right along that section of the canal.
Reach Kris Stadalsky at email@example.com.