American white pelicans are making a pit stop in Will County during their annual fall migration, resting and refueling before continuing south.
Not to be confused with the brown pelicans that live year-round along the southern coast of the U.S., American white pelicans are a migratory species and one of the largest birds in North America.
To get a glimpse of the birds during their layover, join one of the Will County Forest Preserve’s pelican hikes, scheduled for Sunday. The walks are free, but registration is required — and slots are filling up quickly.
The hikes set out on the hour from noon-3 p.m., from the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in McKinley Woods, near where the Des Plaines, DuPage and Kankakee Rivers meet to form the Illinois River. (Make a day of it and zip over to the nearby Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie for more nature exploration.)
Keep an eye on the birds as they feed. They work as a group, corralling fish toward the shallows, where they scoop up their meal in their massive beaks. But that’s where teamwork ends. Pelicans are skilled food thieves, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and will try to steal large fish from each other.
American white pelicans may look goofy on land, but they are majestic in flight. Their distinctive black-tipped wings form a span that averages 8-10 feet, second only to the California condor.
The birds spend the winter on the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and California as well as Mexico and Central America. The Chicago area is on the easternmost edge of the pelican’s migratory range.