Thursday, May 28, 2020


I got the first Audubon email alert late Monday afternoon that they were at Logan’s Landing, but I wasn’t able to leave at that time.  Then Tuesday morning, I got a second alert that they were still there.  I knew I couldn’t miss this opportunity so I headed out.

If I hadn’t noticed the long bills right away, I would have thought it was a group of swans.  But they were pelicans!  American White Pelicans.  Here in Michigan!  Now I’d seen pelicans before, brown ones, when I’d visited Florida, but never in my home state.

As they began to untangle themselves from each other, I noticed most had a big bump on their top beak.  Pelicans grow this fibrous keel during breeding season and once the birds have mated and laid their eggs, the keel is shed.

As I’ve seen in other pelicans, they have a long bill with a huge pouch in the lower half.  The pelican will fish with its bill, which can hold three gallons of water.  After the fish have been caught, the bill is pointed downward, allowing the water to drain, and then the bill is raised and the bird swallows.

The American White Pelican is one of our largest birds, weighing up to 30 pounds.  Its wingspan ranges between eight and ten feet.

These birds are so striking in their appearance, with their beautiful white plumage, light-colored eyes surrounded by yellow, and yellow-orange bills.  Like all birds, they spent a lot of time preening themselves to keep their feathers in good flying shape.

But my biggest question remained, why were they here in Traverse City?  The migration map shows them traveling as far east as the western shore of Lake Michigan.  The Sightings Map, however, showed there’d been sightings all along our Lake Michigan coastline.

Perhaps gale winds over Lake Michigan blew them out of their normal migratory range.  Regardless of why they were here, it was a wonderful experience to see and photograph these White Pelicans.  I felt lucky too, especially after receiving another Audubon alert at 9:45 a.m. that the pelicans had lifted off, grabbed some thermals, and were off to their next destination.


  1. How great that you were able to see and capture beautiful photos of these wonderful visitors, Karen! Bob Zwemmer (sp?) once saw some off the beach at Cherry Homes and showed me pics of them on his iPhone. But, those may have been brown. I've watched for Pelicans when traveling along the North Shore Drive, but have never been lucky enough to see them. Good for you!

  2. Thanks for you story, Jan. I hadn't heard that one about Bob Zwemer spotting pelicans in my old neighborhood. They were definitely exciting to see.