Pelicans ply the airwaves

WHITE PELICANS can and do make one of the most graceful flyers in the world of birds as they ply the airwaves making maximum use of thermal rising air currents. Flocks numbering in the hundreds were observed earlier this month over the Iowa River. They have a wingspan of 8.5 to 9 feet and can weigh as much as 10 to 19 pounds. As the huge flock circled in the sky, each turn they made helped to highlight the big white body and its outstretched wings with black primary feathers. Black wing tips are a distinguishing identification marker.

Since it is migration time for this species, sticking together is the way they do it. Shallow pond sites are favorite resting or feeding areas where fish may be herded into even shallower water. They coordinate feeding by swimming in line which drives small fishes ahead of them. Once the fish get too crowded, another coordinated effort takes place as heads dip into the water simultaneously. A large skin pouch on the lower bill is used like a scoop to catch fish. Then, with heads held high, water drains away before the fish is swallowed whole.

White pelicans feed at the surface. Unlike their brown pelican cousins that dive from the air into the water to capture food, white pelicans have figured out a different way to gather protein for themselves or nestlings being raised. For the two young that hatch in about 30 days time, only one chick is likely to survive. Its sibling will not tolerate the competition. Adults have to find the equivalent of 150 pounds of food to raise one chick to independent status. Pelicans are also skilled at stealing food from other flock members, no gracious thank-yous or pleases in pelican society,

Most of the white pelicans have relocated to the prairie lands and marshes of western states and into central Canada. They like to find ephemeral islands that are isolated from people and potential predators. Nest sites can be as much as 30 miles away from feeding areas. A big bird with a body standing 60 inches tall make a nest bowl on sandy or gravely soils that is about two feet in diameter and somewhat hidden by sparse vegetation growing nearby. After about three weeks, young leave the nest and gather in large young-of-the-year groups called creches. Parent birds continue to forage for them, seeking our their own offspring to give them a meal.

Predators of white pelicans include foxes, coyotes, gulls, ravens, Great Horned Owls and Bald Eagles. In spite of all the factors going for and against this species, its overall numbers in North America are growing. Breeding Bird Survey data holds its population out at about 120,000, and it seems to have grown at around 5 percent per year between 1966 and 2014. The birds are shy and highly sensitive to human disturbances at their breeding colonies. If disturbed, nests are readily abandoned.

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At the opposite end of bird size scales, the littlest species is about to return on or about May 7. It could arrive a bit early or later. This feisty critter is the RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD. It touches the scales at a mere one-eighth of one ounce or about 3.1 grams. Hummingbird feeders could be prepared and installed on May 1 in anticipation of its return from wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, Caribbean Islands or perhaps the Gulf states or outer banks of North Carolina.

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This week, look for additional new bird arrivals. The list could include Common Terns, Whip-poor-wills, Cliff swallows, wrens, Black and White warblers, or White-throated Sparrows just to name a few. Keep looking carefully in all good bird habitats of wetlands, grasslands or forests. Backyard bird feeding stations will get some of these. A dedicated field trip to specific habitats is required to see the others. It is time well spent if one makes the effort.

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This scribe is making an effort to be in the right place at the right time for another large bird, specifically the Eastern Wild Turkey. Well, at this stage of the game of hide and seek, the turkeys are the winners, and I the hunter has not drawn his bow at a Tom turkey … yet. Time spend in the forest waiting and watching for turkeys, and any other wild critters that live there, is time well spent even if it happens to be day when the turkeys are silent, sneaky, or not to be found. I know in time it can all come together as a curious Tom investigates my decoy setup. While waiting for the turkey to makes its move, my binoculars are busy searching surrounding vegetation for anything that moves. Many times that is when I add new bird species to my list of new arrivals. Getting up at o-dark-thirty in the morning is worth it for what Mother Nature is offering as a gift.

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The local IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE has awarded a scholarship and announced the winner. She is Katherine Renee Newhouse of State Center. She will receive a $1,000 scholarship to continue her studies at Iowa State University in her major of Conservation and Agricultural Sciences. Her anticipated graduation date is in early 2017. Congratulations Katherine.

The Ikes have a scholarship fund dedicated and made possible by the Piper Estate. The funds are available to qualified applicants who can demonstrate a need and are specifically using their college studies in a conservation related field. Next year, on or before March 15, another set of applications will be reviewed to see if another scholarship grant can be awarded.

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In other news from the local Ikes, their property including the clubhouse, pond, trails, shooting ranges and archery range have been given the spring cleanup treatment. All is now ready for another season for Ikes members to use. It takes a lot of effort by volunteer members and club officers to make this happen. The end result is a great place for recreation in the outdoors. It is not just a location for safe target use by shooting sports enthusiasts of handguns, long guns or archery equipment, but it is also an excellent place to fish, hike, photograph, picnic or bird watch.

Ikes club president is Charles Strobbe. He wants all CLAY BIRD SHOOTING enthusiasts to note Sunday, May 1 as the date for its first shoot of the season. A quality and exciting set of clay bird targets will be spread out over the Ikes grounds to challenge shotgunners with realistic settings at each target. Registration opens at 9 a.m. and will close at 2 p.m. A 100 bird walk through course will be ready and waiting. The cost is free for youth under age 16, then $20 for anyone ages 16 -21. Those age 22 or more will have to pay $35 per person. More details are available from Ruth Dolash by calling her at 641-751-1121. Come see what a clay bird shoot is all about by watching or participating. Some of the target stations are sure to make humble even the most dedicated clay bird shooter.

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TROUT AT SAND LAKE are coming today at 11 a.m. The Iowa DNR fisheries folks will be bringing a large aerated tank truck from their hatchery. It will be loaded with about 2,000 mostly rainbow trout. Each fish will be about 9-10 inches long. This is especially a good time to bring a young person to Sand Lake for fishing excitement and fun. Adults need the trout fee in addition to their license to take and posses trout. For details on how to comply with the fishing regulations, see pages two, four and twelve of the 2016 Fishing Regulations booklet. Also, one may call game warden Tyson Brown at 751-5246.

Trout stocking in many man-made cold water lakes or former gravel pit waters is a way to bring trout to the people. It is a well planned activity each year by DNR fisheries staffers. Once people find the value of trout fishing and what it offers, they may be so inclined to drive to northeast Iowa where several trout streams get multiple stocking of fish throughout the year. Check it out.

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“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”

– Mark Twain

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.