Wayward pelicans touch down in Parksville

Flock of endangered American white pelicans arrives with overnight storm

The mid-Island’s birding community was left all a-twitter by the appearance of a flock of American white pelicans off the mouth of Craig Creek in Parksville Thursday, June 8.

“This is really weird,” said Nicole Renaud of Nanaimo’s Backyard Wildbird & Nature Store. “Usually their migratory route is up through Saskatchewan and Alberta. We think they’re there right now because they got caught in the storm last night.”

Summer weather conditions gave way to a late-spring squall overnight Wednesday. Local resident Peter Koughan awoke Thurdsay morning to find the flock of 13 of the pelicans resting in the water just off the beach behind his home at high tide, and shared a video of the birds on his Facebook page.

The sighting quickly swept through the substantial local birding community.

“They’re not something we see here very often, at all,” said Julie Mackey, wildlife technician with the North Island Wildlife Recover Association in Errington. “They don’t breed here, and they don’t usually show up here during their migration.”

Mackey said the American white pelican is listed as an endangered species in B.C. and that there is only one known nesting colony in the province, in the Chicotin region west of Williams Lake. The birds’ normal nesting range, according to Handbook of the Birds of the World, ranges from Southwestern Ontario to the northernmost colony between Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., and Fort Smith, NWT.

“They’ll usually use shallow freshwater lakes and wetlands to catch fish at shallow depths. But they’re opportunistic, for sure, in what they’ll eat,” Mackey said of the pelicans’ feeding off the Vancouver Island shore.”

The American white pelican is among the largest birds native to North America, rivaling the trumpeter swan in length at up to 180 cm (5-feet, 10-inches). That length includes the bird’s huge beak, with its distinctive throat sac, which can measure more than a foot in length by itself.

Renaud said a single pelican was also observed near Victoria Thursday morning, also having apparently arrived sometime overnight.

The Parksville flock remained in Craig Bay throughout much of the day Thursday, but Renaud and Mackey didn’t expect the pelicans to remain in the area for long.

“It will be interesting to see how long they stay,” said Mackey. “If they were blown off-course, they’ll rest for a while and want to get back on their way.”

Renaud agreed.

“They’re probably getting some food in them and recouping,” she said . “I would expect them to take off later (Thursday) or tomorrow.”