Premature Pelicans

Arriving at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area early last evening, my wife and I spotted a flock of white birds rising in the distance. Their size and flight pattern suggested American white pelicans but it seemed a bit early for their presence; afterall, those majestic birds usually move through Missouri from late March through mid April. Nevertheless, a quick check with the binos confirmed their identity as thirty or more of the pelicans glided above the edge of the floodplain.

Moving southward through the refuge, we encountered a large variety of ducks, scattered flocks of Canada geese, groups of ring-billed gulls, rafts of American coot, a few bald eagles and a fair number of great blue herons. We also came across more flocks of white pelicans, sailing above the wetlands or resting in the shallows. Then, near the south end of preserve, we discovered a huge congregation of the pelicans (at least 200-300) that had settled along a large lake, easily the largest flock that I have ever encountered in central Missouri.

After wintering along the Gulf Coast, American white pelicans migrate through the Heartland as they return to breeding lakes of the Upper Midwest, Northern Plains and south-central Canada; those that breed across the Intermountain West winter at the Salton Sea and along the Sea of Cortez and Baja Peninsula. While common in Missouri during migrations, last evening's flock was especially large and, in my experience, well ahead of schedule.