Pelicans in Illinois?

We were down at Detweiller Park in Peoria, IL this weekend to watch a huge high school cross country meet.  As we were standing around after watching our team race, we noticed a huge flock of birds up in the clear blue sky.

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First thoughts that were tossed out by people were Sandhill Cranes, Canadian Geese, ducks? Just didn’t look right for any of those.  They were flying too low and quietly for Sandhill Cranes and size and flight pattern didn’t fit with geese or ducks.  Luckily, I had my binoculars with me and I was able to take a good look.  I could have sworn they were pelicans, but we’re in IL and we don’t have White Pelicans here. Looked some more to get a good look at identifying marks. Quickly got out my iPhone iBird Plus App (Mitch Waite Group)and they were definitely White Pelicans. Still puzzled though, since according to the range maps on this app and the Audubon Bird App they were not supposed to be found in this part of IL, even when migrating.  But, there was no mistaking the identification.

After some investigating, it turns out that over the last 10 years or so, a few of these pelicans began migrating up and down the Illinois River. Until then, the furthest east they were known to migrate was via a Mississippi River route. Over the years, it’s become a regular event and their numbers have grown. Why their migration route, back and forth from fresh water lakes in Canada and the North Central US to the southern US, Mexico and Central America, has shifted east to the Illinois River is unknown. One theory is that a storm threw them off track. Since migration is a learned event, they learned the wrong route one year and then kept following it. Whatever the cause, it sure was exciting to see these huge, magnificent birds flying overhead on their way south for the winter. I’ll be writing this sighting on my lifetime list.

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Photos by Steve

Now for a little fun. If you’re still reading, we’ve discovered the best “off the beaten trail” places to grab a bite to eat on our way back home. Heading about 15 minutes north on Rt 29 from the park, Castaways Bar and Grill in Chillicothe, IL is my recomendation for grabbing a delicious bite to eat. Looks can be deceiving, but it is a family friendly place with an extensive menu and friendly staff. We’ve enjoyed their burgers, green bean french fries and an assortment of sandwiches. We’ve not tried one of their famous “O” burgers, maybe next time.  And maybe we’ll see you there after the next XC meet in Peoria.

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