One of the largest birds in North America has again returned to Northeast Wisconsin.
The American White Pelican, with a 9-foot wingspan, is back nesting on the islands of the lower Bay of Green Bay.
On the fast moving waters of the Fox River, just below the dam in De Pere, a pod of white pelicans forage for fish.
“They are waiting for fish to get washed over and stunned and then they can eat them easily,” said Mike Reed from the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary.
A plentiful food source that drew these birds to Northeast Wisconsin over two decades ago and brings them back year after year.
“They are fairly abundant now and I think they are here to stay,” said DNR Wildlife Biologist Josh Martinez.
Martinez says the Bay of Green Bay is home to some 4,000 nesting pairs of these aquatic birds, which first started appearing in the area in the mid-90s.
“They saw the potential for nesting islands, they also started to forage in the area and saw high-quality feed and as a result they started coming back and nesting here,” Martinez said.
“It’s really a magnificent bird,” Reed said.
Reed says the population really took off after a pelican colony in North Dakota collapsed in 2005.
“The adults just went out, spreading out through the whole upper midwest,” said Reed.
Searching for a new home the white pelican found the Bay of Green Bay, where they now return to each late spring, to build their nests and raise their young before flying south for the winter – to the Gulf of Mexico.
“It is really a unique situation, where in our lifetime we’re experiencing an eastward expansion of a species that never had been documented nesting this far east before,” Reed said.
“Lower Green Bay in particular is one of the epicenters where pelicans first started showing up in Wisconsin,” Martinez said.
A unique natural treasure that appears here to stay.
White pelicans are now also found on the Lake Winnebago system, Horicon Marsh and the Mississippi River.