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Lake Decatur has become a more frequent resting spot along their changing migration route for American White Pelicans. American White Pelicans typically nest in the northern parts of Canada before spending the winter in warmer climates, primarily around the Gulf of Mexico.

DECATUR — Lake Decatur is now on the official aerial guide for pelicans seeking fine Midwest dining.

You can tell that because dozens of these large white birds, armed with a fish-terrorizing beak that can measure up to 15 inches long, are now bobbing around on the lake’s placid waters seeking what they may devour.

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Lake Decatur has become a more frequent resting spot along their changing migration route for American White Pelicans. American White Pelicans typically nest in the northern parts of Canada before spending the winter in warmer climates, primarily around the Gulf of Mexico.

It didn’t used to be this way. Joe Nihiser, the lake maintenance supervisor, offered this short history — a kind of "Pelican brief" — on how birds associated more with the Florida seashore wound up visiting here.

“They’ve been coming to our lake probably for the last eight or so years,” said Nihiser, 56. “It first happened when there was a storm, and we believe they got blowed off their migratory path and suddenly arrived here and ever since they’ve been coming back.”

Birds of a feather tend to stick together and, having suddenly found themselves crash-landed amid decent a la carte dining options, Nihiser believes the original birds passed a love of Lake Decatur on in their genome.

"Now we’re possibly seeing the young of those first birds returning back here,” he said.

Nihiser said the pelicans, which are migratory and on their way south, first arrive around mid-July and August and will be gone by early November.

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Lake Decatur has become a more frequent resting spot along their changing migration route for American White Pelicans. American White Pelicans typically nest in the northern parts of Canada before spending the winter in warmer climates, primarily around the Gulf of Mexico.

Nihiser said the pelicans aren’t so noticeable when they first drop in because they stick to quiet coves and other areas before venturing out into the main body of the lake as summer boat traffic dies down.

“Yeah, I like them,” Nihiser said. “I just think its nice to see a different species around our lake.”

Melody Arnold, president of the Decatur Audubon Society, has a soft spot for them, too.

Identifying the species as American white pelicans, Arnold keeps referring to them as “beautiful,” even though a bird that looks like it has had a pair of shears with a leather bag attached welded onto the front of its head may be prone to other descriptors.

“Well, when they are flying they are beautiful,” said Arnold, 70. “But I suppose when you get up close to one they aren’t so attractive — especially if you are a fish.”

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Lake Decatur has become a more frequent resting spot along their changing migration route for American White Pelicans. American White Pelicans typically nest in the northern parts of Canada before spending the winter in warmer climates, primarily around the Gulf of Mexico.

She said the joy of birds is that they come in so many varieties, from hummingbirds to pelicans, and yet all are so clearly recognizable as birds. She said people love them for their sheer variety and for being gifted with that one extraordinary talent mankind has envied across the millennia.

“We’re fascinated with them because they can fly,” she added.

Flying or fishing, Peggy Madden can’t get enough of the pelicans. She lives fronting Lake Decatur on 44th Street and said the thrill of seeing the splashy arrival of the exotic winged visitors never gets old.

“I just love them because they are so unusual,” said Madden, 88. “There’s never a dull moment out here by the lake.”

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Lake Decatur has become a more frequent resting spot along their changing migration route for American White Pelicans. American White Pelicans typically nest in the northern parts of Canada before spending the winter in warmer climates, primarily around the Gulf of Mexico.


PHOTOS: Pelicans on Lake Decatur

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Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

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Macon County Courts Reporter

Macon County courts reporter for the Herald & Review.

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