American white pelicans flock to the wide waters that the DuPage, Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers join to form the Illinois River during their migration in the spring and fall, according to the Forest Preserve District of Will County.
But most people never get the chance to see one up close.
That changes Saturday.
A live pelican will be part a bird presentation from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. as part the forest preserve’s “Pelican Watch” event at the Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon.
“The pelican is an incredibly large animal, probably much larger than most people realize,” Jerome Gabriel, facility supervisor, said. “It has a wingspan of up to 9 feet and weighs up to 30 pounds. So getting to see a live one up close is a pretty impressive sight.”
The pelicans’ anatomy and how pelicans “forage as a group” will be highlighted during event, according to the forest preserve.
“We will be hosting a guided hike to both the pelican and feeding resting areas around the preserve,” Gabriel said. “And for kids and families, we also have a craft area that they’ll be able to make some various projects and take them home with them.”
In addition, Lil’ Deb’s Mobile Eats will be selling food from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The center also has a gift shop.
Pelican Watch is the grand opening for the center’s new interactive exhibits.
One is a 2,000-gallon tank stocked with fish brought in locally by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Gabriel said.
The fish, which include black crappie, bluegill, small mouth bass, walleye and catfish, represent those found in the local rivers, Gabriel said.
A 4-foot-by-10-foot stream table lets visitors see how “erosion creates a winding, bendy river,” Gabriel said.
“And you can watch that in real time,” he said.
Attendees can create a watershed with the augmented reality sandbox, he said. A water source flows through the sand and shows the topographical features of the land, he said.
“As you play with the sand and build hills and play with the sand, a camera actually projects what the landforms will look like,” Gabriel said.
Just outside the window of the exhibit hall is a large bird bath that is fed by a reed sculptures, creating a waterfall effect, he said.
“We’ve seen everything from cardinals and red-bellied woodpeckers to the last of the warblers of the season,” Gabriel said. “Most of those have already moved on with migrations.”
An interactive bird identification table is inside the exhibit hall, Gabriel said.
“You can press an individual button that helps you identify birds based on their look and call,” Gabriel said. “It’s on a very large screen. When you push a button for the bird call, the call will pop up and play over the speaker system.”
Other exhibits include a bird board that lets visitors know what birds recently were spotted, an aerial map of the Four Rivers site on the floor, a scale that estimates the weight gain you need to migrate south for the winter, new reading nooks, play areas and educational videos.
Before leaving, be sure to also check out the mussel exhibit.
“We have a lot of native mussels that live in our riverbed, and our exhibit talks about the life cycle and its interesting reproductive system,” Gabriel said.
In order to safeguard its young and provide the proper nutrients, the mussel creates a good imitation of a small minnow, which extends from its body to lure other fish near, Gabriel said.
“When the fish goes to feed on what it thinks is dinner, the mussel releases its progeny into the fish’s mouth,” Gabriel said. “They grow in the fish and on the fish’s gills.”
When the mussels are ready for independence, they fall out, Gabriel said.
“And we have a video showing the process,” Gabriel said.
For information, visit reconnectwithnature.org.