White pelicans have taken their winters at Lake Caroline in Madison for years bringing joy to the residents who watch them fish but also causing damage to the fish population in the subdivision.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Program Coordinator Houston Havens said American white pelicans are migratory birds that travel to Mississippi during the fall and usually spend the winter along the Gulf Coast. However, it isn‘t unusual for pelicans to be in this area as they will travel around to find quality feeding areas like shallow lakes and other wetlands. As spring comes around, most of the white pelicans in Mississippi migrate back north to head for their summer breeding areas in the northern United States or into Canada.
Lake Caroline resident Debbie McCollum said she built her home in the area in 2007 and saw the pelicans then. However, no one seems to be sure when the pelicans first appeared in the area.
“They may have migrated north from the Gulf Coast and found a quality food source – typically rough scaled fish – but they may have also been around in the local areas for most of the winter,” Havens said. “They can often be found around the Ross Barnett Reservoir, as well as in and around the Mississippi River.”
Residents have happy memories of the pelicans in their neighborhood. McCollum and fellow resident Kristy Launius remembered one pelican that used to stay in Lake Caroline year round.
“The story was he had an injured wing and could not migrate with the rest of them,” Launius said. “Every year when they came back, he would go paddle around with them. I don’t know if he is still there or not.”
“Everyone had a different name for him,” McCollum said.
One resident said, on Caroline Boulevard, they call him Pete. Resident Melissa Lewis said one pelican in the subdivision was tagged and the neighborhood requested a report on him.
“At the time, he had gone the furthest of all the tagged juveniles,” Lewis said.
Some residents said they love watching the pelicans and find them to be blessings. However, others don’t think the same way.
“They are eating all the good fish in the lake, devastating the fishery,” William Tickner said.
He said, although they are pretty, they are not good for the lake. Another resident said pelicans eat about three or four pounds of fish per day.
“Whether pelicans are a benefit or a harm depends on a lot of factors,” Havens said. “Since their primary food source is fish, a large number of pelicans on a lake over an extended period of time could become a conflict with the goals of managing a quality fishery resource. However, over a short period of time, or in smaller numbers, they could potentially help to control over-abundant fish populations before the birds move on to other water bodies.”
Havens said some fun facts about white pelicans are they are one of the largest bird species in North America, and they have a special way of fishing.
“They sometimes cooperatively feed by forming lines and
‘driving’ small fish into shallow water where they are able to feed on the fish,” Havens said. “White pelicans do not typically dive under the water to feed like brown pelicans do.”