An American White Pelican was sighted in the vicinity of Rock Island and Passeonkquis Cove on September 25, 2022 and remained through September 29, 2022.
According to available records for Rhode Island, there have been eighteen sightings of this large waterbird since 1946, including one for Warwick in 1996.
With a wingspan up to ten feet and a maximum body weight of 30 pounds—16 being average—this pelican normally breeds in large colonies on lakes in the interior of southern Canada and the northern plains of the western United States. It migrates in large gregarious flocks to winter along the Gulf of Mexico and in Florida.
So how and why did a solitary pelican that’s usually west of the Mississippi stray so far to the northeast? It could have been confused by the intense smoke from forest fires as it left the breeding grounds and was separated from its traveling companions as it flew to the wintering grounds.
The pelican appeared quite at ease while it was in the park, preening and resting among Double-crested Cormorants, its usual buddies. However, despite the high density of bait fish present, it probably did not feed as well as it normally would in the presence of other pelicans. On its own, it was unable to corral schooling fish to fill its capacious bill pouch.
More than 70 birdwatchers came to Salter Grove and Passeonkquis Cove to observe and photograph this rare visitor during its five-day stay.