Pelicans at Saylorville Lake, Iowa

Sunday, September 7th, the annual Pelican Festival was held at Saylorville Lake near Ankeny, Iowa. Though the day was overcast and even the rain visited a couple times, a few thousand pelicans could be seen resting and catching small fish throughout the mud flats of Saylorville Lake at Jester Park.

Every year, thousands of pelicans make their way from northern breeding grounds through Iowa on the way to warmer temperatures in the south. The perfect place to catch fish and rest their giant wings, Jester Park is a great place to see these wonderful birds in action. Sunny, warm days are the best time to view these birds due to warm thermal uplifts that make flying long distances a breeze.

With a wingspan up to 9 feet, pelicans nest in northern lakes of the United States. North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada are prime breeding grounds and provide a wide range of fish for feeding. The White Pelican is able to hold up to 3 gallons of water in their throat pouch, which they scoop up along with small fish before filtering the fish down their throat and the water back to the lake. Pelicans hunt for fish in groups and gather the fish in shallow water before scooping them up with their large mouths. They are known to travel up to 100 miles a day in search of food.

Nesting takes place within a colony of over 20,000 birds. The nests are placed a few feet apart and 2-3 eggs will be laid in each nest. Newly hatched chicks will form “pods” or groups to protect themselves from predators. After 7-10 weeks, the young birds will be able to fly and care for themselves.

Though in 1972, the American white pelican was placed on the threatened species list, in 1987 it was removed due to measures taken to protect these birds. Today, there is an estimated 250,000 adult pelicans and 150,000 immature birds in the United States.

Blue Heron at Saylorville Lake