Everyone’s sick of the standing water that’s lingered for months, turning farm fields into lakes in western Iowa along parts of Interstates 29 and 680.

Everyone, that is, except the pelicans.

Large groups of American white pelicans can be seen congregating in Missouri River floodwaters along the highways, where they’re drawn to the shallow waters with an abundance of fish.

Yes, there are pelicans in the Midwest.

While brown pelicans stick to the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, American white pelicans breed mainly in the Dakotas, Minnesota and southern Canada. They pass through Iowa and Nebraska as part of fall and spring migration , typically to and from the Gulf of Mexico. Not content to let sandhill cranes get all the glory, boosters in Harlan County, Nebraska, have held pelican watches in recent years.

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It’s not unusual to see white pelicans at DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges, but this year they’re flocking more to flooded fields outside the refuge where fish may be trapped. Thursday, they were near Honey Creek, Iowa. A Facebook post from the refuges said the birds often team up to corral their prey into shallow water.

“It’s more or less easy pickings,” said Peter Rea, the supervisory park ranger at DeSoto and Boyer Chute. “They have been sticking around and taking advantage of it.”

Visitors to DeSoto have commented on how the pelicans seem more visible this year. The birds may be staying in place a bit longer, too, to avoid battling winds blowing up from the south.

“It’s neat to see that many of them,” Rea said.

The white-and-black birds have a wingspan that can reach 9 feet, and they usually stick to marshes, wetlands, lakes and reservoirs. They scoop and dip for fish with their large bills and distinctive pouches. (It’s brown pelicans that dive-bomb into the water at impressive speeds.) Each bird eats more than 4 pounds of food a day.

Pelicans usually migrate through this area from late August to early October, so don’t miss your chance for some prime bird watching. Great blue herons, typically solitary birds, have also been grouping up to feed in the floodwaters along I-29.

As Missouri River levels rise, especially after heavy rain Thursday morning, conditions may not continue to be ideal for the birds, who prefer shallow over deep water, said Joel Jorgensen, the nongame bird program manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

“They’re probably not too happy with all that water coming up,” he said.

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Reporter - Education

Erin is an enterprise reporter for the World-Herald. Previously, Erin covered education. Follow her on Twitter @eduff88. Phone: 402-444-1210.

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