Pelicans staying put in Kansas: These birds have been seen in Augusta instead of heading south

Greg Williams
Butler County Times Gazette
According to Augusta Animal Control, the American White Pelican typically migrates in the fall to the Gulf of Mexico. However, some may stay longer and have been known to stay as late as December.

Pelicans are no stranger to Kansas. These birds love to move up here after the Winter to enjoy the Spring and Summer weather, but once Fall arrives, it's time to head South.

But, that's what we thought. As temperatures begin to drop in Kansas, pelicans have decided to stay a little longer for the cool weather.

During the last few days, temperatures have ranged from the lower 40s to the mid-30s but these birds were seen in Augusta relaxing at Augusta Lake. 

"The adult American White Pelican is capable of impressive thermoregulation," said Kansas State University Animal Sciences and Industry Professor Dr. Cassandra Jones. "The adult pelican uses its large pouch-like structure for more than just feeding behavior – it can vibrate a structure in the pouch to provide evaporative cooling. During cold weather, the frequency and length of these vibrations are reduced to sustain energy and heat."

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According to Augusta's Animal Control, the American White Pelican typically migrate in the Fall to the Gulf of Mexico. However, some may stay longer and have been known to stay as late as December. 

"Migration patterns of both birds and insects are strongly impacted by wind currents," said Dr. Jones. "Kansas typically has relatively calm and consistent south-southwest winds in October. However, the second half of October saw unseasonably strong winds from the Northwest. It’s likely that the pelicans have been waiting for more ideal wind conditions to support their migration south to the Missouri and Mississippi River."

Birds rely on the tailwinds and updrafts to support their flight to the South and to conserve their energy. Due to the pelican's large body size, they rely on the wind more than many other birds.

In the spring, migration to the North is driven by the pending breeding season. Birds have the sense of urgency to travel North through any wind pattern to get to their final destination.

Typically, Fall and Winter are the non-breeding seasons, so birds will take their time to get to where they want. 

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Migration Map: yellow = migration; peach = breeding; blue = nonbreeding; and purple = year-round

From Nov. 5 to Nov. 9, temperatures will be in the 60s and 70s, but starting Nov. 10, temperatures will start to dip into the 50s.

During those days, winds are expected to blow South-Southwest, which would be the ideal wind pattern for the pelicans to travel. When the temperatures drop into the 50s, the wind pattern will start to blow into the Northwest.

These pelicans won't stay forever as they'll eventually make their way South, but for now, they're making Kansas their home for a little longer.

Greg Williams has been the reporter for the Wellington Daily News and Butler County Times-Gazette since May 2021. You can reach him at GWilliams@gannett.com or on Twitter at @GregWilliams28.