By Coggin Heeringa, Director, Crossroads at Big Creek
A group of pelicans is called a pod. Actually, there are many other names for pelican groupings — a pouch, a scoop, a squadron or if they are fishing as a group, a fleet.
Last Sunday, my husband and I were out on the wildlife observation platform of Leadership Landing at The Cove Preserve. At first, squadron was a good name as the magnificent White Pelicans started flying in formation over the Crossroads at Big Creek property.
First seven…then twelve. At 25, we stopped counting because the large white birds were landing in the water. Most were just sort of bunched together.
There were a few individuals apart from the group. They seemed to be interested in the cormorants…which makes sense. When cormorants dive, frightened fish swim upward, and waiting pelicans easily can scoop them up.
But soon, the outliers were welcomed into the group which lined up in a wide crescent shape. Then, in perfect formation, the birds began swimming forward…apparently driving a school of fish into shallow water.
Remember when synchronized swimming was a thing? I guess it’s still an event of the Summer Olympics. Anyway, that is what the fishing fleet of pelicans resembled. The birds were all swimming and when, as if it had been choreographed, every head went down simultaneously.
Again and again, the fleet of white birds corralled the fish, and then, as of one accord, the pelicans, probably 30 of them by this time, tipped their bodies and dipped their heads to scoop up the fish using throat pouches like nets. They were every bit as graceful as swans.
So why would pelicans form fishing fleets? And why do they work? Clearly, they had a common goal…catching fish! They included every bird in their group. They were all pointing toward their common goal. Each bird stayed in formation. Working together, they were far more effective than they would have been working independently. Might there be a lesson in this?
The Cove Preserve has become a popular destination…so popular that Crossroads, in the very near future, will be constructing driveways and parking lots at that preserve. Designed to increase the safety and convenience of our visitors, these installations will help protect The Cove Estuary from pollution and siltation. Because The Cove has been designated a State Archaeological Site, out of respect for the indigenous people who, thousands of years ago, made The Cove their summer home, the parking areas were carefully sited to avoid disturbing prehistoric features. During construction, vehicles will be prohibited at The Cove Preserve. Watch our website and Facebook page for construction updates.
Unfortunately, this summer, we have been discouraged from hosting large groups, and yet, we so wish we could share the wonders of nature at this special place we call Crossroads at Big Creek.
So for the next few weeks — though we will not be offering our Family Programs, lectures, or public nature hikes — we are going to try an experiment. We are calling this Covid-inspired free program “Nature by Appointment.”
Tuesday through Saturday starting June 30, safer-at-home-nits (a.k.a. families) or an individual, or perhaps even two or three friends of any age, wearing masks and practicing social distancing, will be able to participate in a 45 minute private outdoor nature program with a naturalist. The topics the first week will be Planets, Wildflowers, or Fossils.
To make an appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org and please put “Nature by Appointment” in the topic line. Programs will start at 9 am, 10 am and 11 am each day. List the names of participants (and ages of children), days and times you are available, and the program topic of your choice. We will confirm appointments by email. (Please: no calls)
Until further notice, the buildings at Crossroads at Big Creek are closed. But our trails are open and we encourage the community to use our preserves, as always, free of charge, for recreation, for learning and for the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor exercise. Please practice social distancing and respect our natural resources and each other.
Crossroads at Big Creek Learning Center and Nature Preserve is located at 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Crossroads is a 501(c)3 organization committed to offering education, conducting research and providing outdoor experiences to inspire environmental stewardship in learners of all ages.