By Coggin Heeringa, Director, Crossroads at Big Creek
A pod is the name given to a group of pelicans. However, there are several other terms to describe pelican gatherings such as a pouch, a scoop, or a squadron. If they are fishing collectively, they are referred to as a fleet.
Last Sunday, my spouse and I were present at the wildlife observation platform of Leadership Landing at The Cove Preserve. Initially, the squadron seemed like an appropriate term for the majestic White Pelicans as they began flying in formation over the Crossroads at Big Creek property.
At first, there were seven of them, then the number increased to twelve. We stopped counting at twenty-five as the large white birds started landing in the water. Most of them were huddled together.
Several individuals were not part of the group. They appeared to take an interest in the cormorants, which makes sense. When cormorants dive, scared fish swim upward, and the pelicans, waiting eagerly, can easily scoop them up.
But soon, the outliers were welcomed into the group, forming a wide crescent shape. Then, in perfect synchronization, the birds began swimming forward, seemingly herding a school of fish into shallow water.
Remember the days when synchronized swimming was popular? I believe it is still an event in the Summer Olympics. Well, that’s exactly how the fishing fleet of pelicans appeared. Every bird was swimming in coordination, and as if choreographed, they all dove simultaneously.
Again and again, the fleet of white birds corralled the fish, and then, as if by mutual agreement, the pelicans, about 30 of them at this point, tilted their bodies and dipped their heads to capture the fish using their throat pouches as nets. They were just as elegant as swans.
So, why do pelicans form fishing fleets? And why does their strategy work? It’s quite evident that they have a shared objective – to catch fish! They include every bird in their group and align themselves towards a common goal. Each bird maintains its position in the formation. By collaborating, they achieve far greater efficiency than they would have working independently. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from this.
The Cove Preserve has become a popular destination, so much so that in the near future, Crossroads will be constructing driveways and parking lots there. These additions will enhance the safety and convenience for our visitors while also protecting The Cove Estuary from pollution and siltation. As The Cove is a State Archaeological Site, we have taken care to avoid disturbing any prehistoric features when siting the parking areas. During construction, vehicles will not be permitted at The Cove Preserve. Keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for updates on the construction progress.
Unfortunately, we have been advised against hosting large groups this summer. Nevertheless, we truly wish we could share the natural wonders of this special place called Crossroads at Big Creek.
Therefore, for the next few weeks, although we won’t be offering our Family Programs, lectures, or public nature hikes, we have an experimental program called “Nature by Appointment.” Inspired by the Covid situation, this free program allows families or individuals, maybe even two or three friends of any age, to participate in a 45-minute private outdoor nature program with a naturalist. The topics for the first week will be Planets, Wildflowers, or Fossils.
To make an appointment, send an email to [email protected] and include “Nature by Appointment” in the subject line. The programs will begin at 9 am, 10 am, and 11 am each day. Please list the names of participants (and ages of children), the days and times you are available, and your preferred program topic. We will confirm your appointment via email. (Please refrain from calling.)
Until further notice, the buildings at Crossroads at Big Creek are closed. However, our trails remain open, and we encourage the community to use our preserves free of charge for recreation, learning, and the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor exercise. Please remember to practice social distancing and respect our natural resources as well as each other.
Crossroads at Big Creek Learning Center and Nature Preserve is situated at 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Crossroads is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to providing education, conducting research, and offering outdoor experiences that inspire environmental stewardship in learners of all ages.