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Forest Preserve’s ‘Pelican Watch’ in Channahon Features Hikes and Hands-On Activities

The Forest Preserve District of Will County’s “Pelican Watch” on Saturday, March 14, highlights the many American white pelicans that rest and refuel in the wide waters adjacent to McKinley Woods during migration. The 2020 program takes place at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon. (Photo courtesy of Paul Dacko)

Twice a year, Will County wildlife watchers can view one of the most fascinating – and biggest – bird species in North America as American white pelicans rest and refuel in local waters during migration.

To take advantage of the spring migration viewing opportunity, the Forest Preserve District of Will County is offering a “Pelican Watch” from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, March 14, at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon.

The “Pelican Watch” program is designed to spark “awe and interest” in the birds, said Chris Gutmann, facility supervisor at Four Rivers. The free, family-friendly event will include guided hikes, exhibits, presentations on pelican migration and biology, and hands-on activities that focus on the birds’ wide wingspan and how much food and water their pouches can hold.

The timing of the event is perfect, since people who have been cooped up for winter will want to get outside to start enjoying all things spring, Gutmann said. And even if the weather isn’t perfect, the Four Rivers building will offer plenty of indoor activities and information, he added.

There is a misconception that pelicans are only found by oceans, Gutmann explained. Once people become aware that pelicans can be viewed locally during spring and fall migration, the “charismatic” birds are a big draw, he added.

“They’re just a big goofy looking bird,” he said. “If you see a bird that looks like that with a 9-foot wingspan coming across (the water) I don’t care who you are, that’s going to get your attention.”

McKinley Woods is a perfect location for pelicans to mass as they prepare to head farther north for the summer because it is located at the confluence of the DuPage and Des Plaines Rivers and just upstream from where the Kankakee River joins in to form the Illinois River.

“At the confluence where the DuPage and the Des Plaines meet, that’s just a really wide area,” Gutmann said. “It’s a big target for a big bird and I think that has a lot to do with it. … That seems to be what they are drawn to.”

The pelicans’ fascinating anatomy, including their pouches, and information on how they forage as a group, will be highlighted during the event. Gutmann also noted that pelicans look more colorful in spring than in the fall because they’re getting ready for nesting.

For information on additional Forest Preserve programs and events, visit the Event Calendar at ReconnectWithNature.org.

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