GORE BAY – Pelicans are a ubiquitous sight on the eastern coast, especially on coastal waters around Florida, but those are brown pelicans. White pelicans are actually more likely to be spotted in western slues and the Lake of the Woods region. A flock of the white variety recently dropped in on Lake Wolsey where a few lucky birders managed to take some photos.
“People are likely more familiar with the brown variety that are common to places like Florida,” said Island birder Chris Bell, who was disappointed that he had not been able to sight his binoculars on the rare birds. “The white pelican is found on prairie slues and around the Lake of the Woods. We have had reports of them in the early spring and summer, usually in Killarney Bay and now the Wolsey causeway.”
The American white pelican is described as a huge waterbird with very broad wings, a long neck and a massive bill that gives the head a unique, long shape. They have thick bodies, short legs and short, square tails. During the breeding season, adults grow an unusual projection or horn on the upper mandible near the tip of the bill.
That mandible can be discerned in the photos taken by Gore Bay’s Judy Middaugh.
“I had no idea that they were here,” said Ms. Middaugh when contacted by The Expositor. “I thought I was seeing things.” But she now has photographic proof of the existence of pelicans on Manitoulin.
It was a lucky happenstance that she got to see the large birds, as she was driving and her brother spotted the pelicans on the water.
Ms. Middaugh noted that Gore Bay Terry Land also managed to secure photos of the pelicans. “I think his photos are better than mine,” she said.
According to the Cornell Lab birder source, American white pelicans feed from the water’s surface, dipping their beaks into the water to catch fish and other aquatic organisms. They often upend, like a very large dabbling duck, in this process. They do not plunge or dive the way brown pelicans do and they are superb soarers (they are among the heaviest flying birds in the world) and often travel long distances in large flocks by soaring. When flapping, their wingbeats are slow and methodical. They are actually much larger than a bald eagle.
So when travelling around the Island’s water bodies, keep a sharp eye focused and your camera ready, you never know what you will see.