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Photo Gallery: The pelicans’ not-so-brief stop in Iowa City


American white pelicans swim and fly in the Iowa River as they migrate north, photographed on Thursday, April 7, 2022. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

A flock of tourists have stopped in Iowa City to enjoy the local cuisine and scenery. Clad in white and orange, hundreds of American white pelicans are swimming up and down the Iowa River during a break in the migration from their winter habitat on the Gulf Coast to their summer habitat in Minnesota and Canada. The pelicans like to congregate near the Burlington Street Dam, where the falling water stirs up fresh fish.

Pelicans are no stranger to Iowa waters; many nest along the Mississippi River, but large flocks typically don’t fly this direction or stay for very long. These pelicans, however, seem to like Iowa City. For the past three weeks, they’ve been spotted from Terry Trueblood Recreation Area to Coralville Lake.

American white pelicans are about 4 feet tall with a wingspan of about 9 feet. Since they’re one of the heaviest flying birds, they rely on their large wingspan to glide long distances. Their feathers are white, except for the black feathers on the edge of their wings. While they’re good swimmers and flyers, they can have clumsy landings.

The American white pelicans don’t dive in the water like the brown pelican. Instead they swim across the water’s surface and scoop up fish with the large, expandable pouch in their bills. They hunt in packs, often herding fish to the shore by flapping their wings. They eat up to three pounds of fish per day. 


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