Pelicans in Ohio
Chuck Spinner, Pioneer Electric Cooperative
Q. Hi, Chip: My wife, Patrice, and I spent a very enjoyable week at Grand Lake St. Marys in Celina, Ohio, from March 26 through April 3. We stayed at a motel right on the lake and were able to witness a very curious sight. On our first day at the lake, we were amazed to see about 60 pelicans on the water. We had always thought that pelicans were a nonmigratory species whose home was in Florida. The pelicans we saw had an unusual bump on the top of their bill. Our research indicated that these bumps formed at mating season and fell off afterwards. Can you verify this? Can you also identify the particular species of pelicans we saw, and their migratory pattern? Thanks, Chip, for any information you can give us on these pelicans.
A. Thanks for your question, Chuck; it’s an interesting one. The large birds you saw were American white pelicans, and they were definitely migrating as they do not nest in Ohio. They are only seen here spring and fall, and usually in much smaller flocks than what you saw … so congrats, lucky you! They nest along waterways in the interior of North America, wintering along the U. S. southern coast and Central America. As for the bump on the top of their bill, sometimes called a horn or keel, it is seen only on breeding adults during the mating season. The bump then drops off following breeding.
When feeding, pelicans can hold more than three gallons of water and fish in their mouth pouch, which is two to three times what their stomach can hold. Years ago, I heard the following rhyme written by humorist Bennett Cerf, and for some reason it has stuck in my mind ever since, “A gorgeous bird is the pelican, whose beak will hold more than his bellican.”