published Monday, January 14th, 2013

Pelicans find temporary home on Weiss Lake

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos ) floats in Morro Bay, Calif.
An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos ) floats in Morro Bay, Calif.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

COWAN CREEK, Ala. — The Cherokee County area endured a predictable lack of snow this Christmas. Yet some Weiss Lake travelers have been seeing white for a couple of months.

A sizable flock of snow-white pelicans has taken up residence at Cowan Creek. A dozen or more of these feathery coastal birds have been a common sight cruising the waters on both sides of the Cowan Creek Bridge along County Road 22 for several weeks.

Officially, the new winter residents are called American White Pelicans. The birds are heavy, potentially reaching up to 30 lbs. Even so, Sam Hodges, in a recent article about the birds on www.al.com, called them "gifted aerialists." At up to eight or nine feet, the pelican's wingspan tops that of most bald eagles, making for impressive plunges into local waters.

John Hudgins of Cowan Creek Grocery and Marina has heard a lot about the pelicans this winter.

"There are a lot of them," he said recently. "They have black underneath their wings. You might not see the black unless you see one fly. People talk about them a good bit. They've never seen them before."

A call to the Alabama Department of Natural Resources provided more information.

"They summer up in the northern United States and Canada," biologist John Mareska told The Post. "During the winter they make a seasonal migration to the Gulf of Mexico. Since it's a migratory bird, it would not surprise me to hear of some of them stopping along the way at Weiss Lake."

The Cowan Creek stay isn't the American White Pelican's first time in the area. Web reports from bird watchers and photographers have documented the pelicans' Weiss Lake presence for several years. Most online references place previous flocks and sightings in the Cedar Bluff area, particularly near the Chattooga River bridge on state Highway 68 near Harton's Store. The American White Pelican also has been spotted at Lake Logan Martin.

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