American white pelican sightings on the rise in Essex County

Expert birder and wildlife tour guide Jeremy Bensette, said the American white pelican has become a more common sight around Lake Erie.

Birds have a wingspan of up to 3 m and can be seen along shorelines

This American white pelican was photographed in July 2017 in the Rainy River, Ont. area, about 100 km from the border with Manitoba. But it can now also be spotted in the southernmost part of Ontario, in areas of Essex County. (Submitted by Jeremy Bensette)

These big birds are hard to miss, especially along the shorelines of Lake Erie. 

The once rare-for-the-area species now has southern Ontario birders flocking to Windsor-Essex to catch a glimpse. 

The American white pelican has become a more common sight in the region, said avid birder and wildlife tour guide Jeremy Bensette.

"They kind of look like bombers coming in over the water," he said. "They're an absolutely massive, mostly white bird. They have real thick black wing tips and they glide real low over the water."

Massive is right. The wing span of these pelicans can reach up to 3 m. They're bigger than a swan or a turkey and have some unique traits. 

Jeremy Bensette took this photo of six American white pelicans at Hillman Marsh in 2014. (Submitted by Jeremy Bensette)

"They don't go down like torpedoes in the sky and under the water like the way brown pelicans do in the tropics," said Bensette. 

"Instead, they're really buoyant swimmers. They kind of form a line, either horizontally or diagonally, and they all put their bills in the water and kind of swim along forward and push the fish forward and try to help each other."

Hear more about the birds from Bensette on CBC's Windsor Morning:

Bensette, who set a record last year for bird sightings, said the birds have been in the area for six or seven years now. But as populations start to grow, so does their breeding area. 

"Somewhere along the edge of western Lake Erie — the tip of Point Pelee or Holiday Beach [in Essex County] would be pretty good spots [to see them]," he said.

Bensette said the birds can be spotted along shorelines. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Canada's southernmost populated island, Pelee Island, is another ideal location, Bensette added.

It's also possible to see the birds in large groups, and Bensette saw 22 of them together in the Point Pelee marsh a few years ago. 

"There's a few areas in Ontario to see them in large groups," he said, although those spots are up to 18 hours away from Windsor.

"We can see 300 or 400 in a single group there."


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