Pelicans Across Iowa

Pelicans Across Iowa

Oct 10, 2015

Pelicans in Iowa? Each year, more Iowans are captivated by the big white fish-scoopers, which migrate through—and in some cases live around shallows of our large lakes or backwaters of the Mississippi River.

Thousands of American White Pelicans stage for migration from early August through September, depending on weather conditions. They need shallow waters and plenty of fish to eat, before heading south; wintering around the Gulf of Mexico. They will stay here as long as fish are available and the weather holds out, before lifting off in multi- hundred bird, almost choreographed flights bending through the skies.

The Iowa Wildlife Federation was among a dozen outdoor groups and agencies at the Coralville Reservoir Pelican Fest in Johnson County. There, spotting scopes provided up close looks at a flock of about 100, which floated 150 to 400 yards offshore all day long.

Another flock of a couple hundred hung back, a mile across the shallow upstream area. Early arriving exhibitors and visitors had only to look straight up, as a couple flights of a dozen or more drifted right overhead!

Several hundred juvenile pelicans spend the warm weather months on the Coralville Reservoir, not yet ready to head north to nest around the shallow lakes of the Dakotas, Minnesota and Prairie Canada. As they mature, though, they will move on; replaced hopefully by younger pelicans.

During the late summer, up to 5000 of the big migratory birds congregated in Hoosier Bay, near Solon. A few lucky viewers are around as pelicans circle and, in unison, beat the water with their wings and push that circle toward shore. They literally ‘herd’ rough fish into inches of water, where they are scooped into the big birds’ big pouches.

They can also be found in the late season, on the Mississippi River, Red Rock and Rathbun Reservoirs and a few other ‘big waters’. “Over the last 25 years, pelicans have really recovered around the country. Now, the last few years, it’s been absolutely fabulous to have them nesting on an island near Clinton”, emphasizes DNR wildlife diversity biologist Pat Schlarbaum. “They are utilizing the habitat, finding fish and (teaching us) about their biology, what it takes to have clean water and have the opportunity to watch them.”