October 19, 2021

Illinois proving popular route for American white pelicans

CHICAGO (AP) — A kind of bird that not that long ago was so rare in Illinois that people traveled hours just to catch a glimpse of one have lately been winging their way through the Chicago area.

Snow-white 30-pound birds called the American white pelican are on their semiannual migration through Illinois right now. It is a trip that means hundreds of them stop to rest near the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon, 50 miles, southwest of Chicago. Thousands more stop for a bit about 150 miles beyond Channahon at the Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge in Lewistown.

There are a number of reasons this might be happening. For starters, decades of wetland restoration across the country have helped increase the number of birds from about 40,000 in the 1960s to 180,000 today.

As to why Illinois has seen so many more, American Birding Association webmaster Greg Neise tells the Chicago Tribune that perhaps the birds that traditionally breed in Canada and the Great Plains and migrate to the Gulf Coast every winter started breeding in northern Wisconsin.

He said another possibility might be that all those Asian carp that have invaded Illinois waterways in recent years are, the pelicans have discovered, good eating.