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A Large Out-Of-Season Visitor.

February 4, 2017

American White Pelican

Recently I went looking for an unusual winter visitor to central Ohio.  There have been occasional irregular sightings of birds of this species in previous years, but they usually occur during migrations, not in the coldest weather.

This odd visitor had been seen hanging around the small campgrounds beach along Alum Creek Reservoir.  I went there 9 days ago to take a look.

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It was a cold and windy winter day.  The beach was deserted save for a birder or two and an Ohio Wildlife Center volunteer, who was there trying to catch our visitor.  The bird was definitely out-of-place and alone, which was unusual for this species.  It was thought to be struggling and in need of aid.  The bird had been seen earlier that day and had flown off.

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After a while, I was alone on the beach.  It looked like somebody was trying to lure the bird in with fish!

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The rocks along the beach were covered with Zebra Mussels, a wildly successful invasive species that has been in the Great Lakes for years.  There it spread to many bodies of water via boats.  Originally from Eurasia, this species shows no sign of slowing down.

 

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I walked along the paths near the reservoir and through the near-empty campgrounds for a while, then returned to the beach.  A birder told me she had seen the bird fly by 20 minutes ago.

So I settled in my car and kept a good eye out on the reservoir.

40 minutes later, success!  A large bird came flying in-

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This is an American White Pelican, which in Ohio is seen often along Lake Erie, but is much less common inland.  And is rarely seen inland in winter.

One of the largest North American birds, the American White Pelican is majestic in the air. The birds soar with incredible steadiness on broad, white-and-black wings. Their large heads and huge, heavy bills give them a prehistoric look. On the water they dip their pouched bills to scoop up fish, or tip-up like an oversized dabbling duck. Sometimes, groups of pelicans work together to herd fish into the shallows for easy feeding. Look for them on inland lakes in summer and near coastlines in winter.

The bird landed in the reservoir a ways off from the beach- I went creeping through the woods to get a view of it, careful not to scare it off.

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What a magnificent bird!

They forage almost exclusively by day on their wintering grounds, but during breeding season, they commonly forage at night. Even though it’s hard to see, nighttime foraging tends to result in larger fish being caught than during the daytime.

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It preened in the water for a bit, then swam towards the beach.

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It got to the beach and continued preening.  The afternoon was late, and it was going to be dark in an hour or so.

These large, gregarious birds often travel and forage in large flocks, sometimes traveling long distances in V-formations. They soar gracefully on very broad, stable wings, high into the sky in and between thermals. On the ground they are ungainly, with an awkward, rolling, but surprisingly quick walk. Their webbed feet make for water-ski landings and strong swimming. They forage by swimming on the surface, dipping their bills to scoop up fish, then raising their bills to drain water and swallow their prey.

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It was great to see this bird.  Since I originally saw it, it has moved over to Hoover Reservoir and is still flying around.  I wonder if we will see more of them in the future.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2017 10:39 am

    We get them, too, later, in spring. These are just gorgeous photos! Thank you for them and your wonderful post!

  2. February 4, 2017 12:50 pm

    What a great set of images, Tracy! I’ve never seen them here in the Pgh. area but I’m sure they congregate in Erie. Gorgeous creature!

  3. February 4, 2017 1:13 pm

    Very Cool!!

  4. John Northcutt Young permalink
    February 4, 2017 5:47 pm

    I always learn reading your posts. Thanks Tracy!

  5. February 5, 2017 6:21 am

    Good stalking.

  6. February 24, 2017 8:40 am

    These pictures are amazing! I have some of pelicans on Green Bay, but much farther off. I never knew they fly in flocks. Hope the bird is okay (perhaps it just knows spring will be early…)

    • February 25, 2017 11:36 am

      Thanks, Inger! I haven’t heard any reports this past week, but the weather is warmer which probably will help the bird!

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