Question: What do you call a group of pelicans?
Answer: A pod; pouch; scoop; squadron. And, if they are fishing as a group, the pelicans are called a “fleet.”
I recently witnessed a fleet of pelicans fishing while biking around Little Lake Butte des Morts. Similar to choreographed synchronized swimming, this fleet kept to a tight circle, alternatingly bobbing their heads down under water to catch fish (while their backsides mooned) and coming up to swallow their yummy and sustaining prize. Swimming in a circular dance with the beauty and grace of swans, it was mesmerizing and worthy of an attentive audience rather than a lone human figure.
White pelicans were once a rare site in Wisconsin. They did not spend summers in this part of the country until some time in the 1980’s and it wasn’t until 1999 that this breed of pelican began nesting in the Green Bay area and the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge near Mayville.
I had no idea that the American White Pelican existed in the state until I began noticing them on the Fox River and Little Lake Buttes des Morts within the last five or six years. On the Fox Trot trail, a brick wall was painted to include birds of the river, which includes ducks, eagles, geese and pelicans. And on the river that runs parallel, you can often see pelicans sitting on whatever protrudes from the water and will hold their two feet.
From Wisconsin Public Radio:
From 2005 to 2013, the state’s population continued to rise, reaching more than 4,100 nests. While researchers don’t know exactly where the massive influx of pelicans came from, Horicon biologist Sadie O’Dell speculates that the birds came from an abandoned colony in North Dakota.
“We found a banded bird here on the refuge and we know that that banded bird came from out West, likely in the Dakotas,” she said. “And there was a mysterious abandonment of a large nesting colony of over 30,000 nesting birds out and Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota.”
I took a few photos of the pelican fleet, but the video didn’t capture what I witnessed in person. The following YouTube video paints a better picture of their method and dance, although this fleet consists of hundreds of birds rather than the much smaller fleet of twelve that I watched.
American White Pelicans have no natural predators in Wisconsin, although the young may be vulnerable to eagles and foxes. With their nine foot wing span, they dine mostly on fish. Carp are invasive fish in some areas of the state, so the pelican may be helping with that population. They have a great habitat here, with plenty to eat, so it is expected their numbers will continue to grow.
I love to see these long-billed birds with a pouch, along with the ducks, geese and eagles that populate the area, but the dance of the pelican fleet is truly something special to watch. I hope that some of you will get to see it too, one day.