Lake Springfield seeing more white pelicans

Monday, April 5, 2010 | 3:35 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD — Bald eagles might win the attention when it comes to unusual birds visiting Lake Springfield, but the appearance of flocks of big white birds at the lake lately is providing another view of nature on the move.

It appears that white pelicans are putting the lake on their migratory flight routes, a naturalist with the Springfield Conservation Nature Center said.

Birders also have seen pelicans at times when they aren't migrating, leading to the conclusion that some are making the lake a permanent home.

The birds, which tend to stay in the middle of the lake, provide an added attraction during visits for people like Curt Bennett, who was checking out the lake for fishing but watched as part of a flock of around 100 pelicans took off from the water and circled in the air.

"I saw those pelicans; what kind are they?" the Abilene, Kan., resident who was visiting relatives asked.

He recently was in Texas and saw plenty of pelicans, but was unsure about the birds at the lake, which had black wingtips. While pelicans might be a curiosity in the Ozarks, they're common on the Texas Gulf Coast, Bennett said.

"The pelicans down there, you go out on a fishing boat, before you get your fish up, they try to get it off your hook."

There didn't seem to be any conflict between the big birds and human anglers fishing from boats or on the shore, however.

White pelicans are even larger than their relative the brown pelican, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Bird Identification Center. The white pelican measures 50 inches in length with a wingspan of 110 inches, according to the center. Unlike brown pelicans, which dive into the water to catch fish, white pelicans fish while floating on the water.

While several other birds such as the wood stork and even white geese can be mistaken for white pelicans at a distance because of the black primary and secondary feathers on the wings, white pelicans fly with their necks tucked into their bodies.

And close up, it's hard to miss a pelican's thick bill and neck pouch.

Nature Center naturalist Rudy Martinez said he's heard a number of comments about the birds.

One unusual account was from a visitor at the center who reported seeing a flock that had taken off from the lake fly past the center information, he said.

The appearance of white pelicans at Lake Springfield could be a regular occurrence, Martinez said.

"The last several years, we've had them out on the lake," he said. "Some seem to be overwintering."

It's difficult to calculate when the pelicans will leave Lake Springfield to fly north to summer homes in the Great Lakes states and Canada, he said.

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