Puget Sound Has New Climate Refugees. They're Pelicans.

American white pelicans are conspicuous birds. With their long orange bills and their nine-foot wingspan, they stand out, even at a distance.

Sue Ehler easily spots a squadron of them through her binoculars from over a mile away, coming in for a landing on Puget Sound’s Padilla Bay.

“They’ve got that pure white. It just shines like a bright light out there. More than the other white birds,” Ehler says. 

Ehler visits this estuary in Northwest Washington every other week from spring to fall with her friend and fellow citizen scientist and retired biologist Matt Kerschbaum. They’re volunteers with the Skagit Heron Foraging Study, tracking the health of the largest breeding colony of great blue herons in the Pacific Northwest.

Ehler and Kerschbaum were among the first to notice the pelicans.

“It was like seeing aliens arrive,” says Ehler, a seasonal biologist with a degree in ornithology. “It’s unprecedented for them to be here, so something really unusual is happening.”

White pelicans are different from brown pelicans, a more common summer visitor to coastal Washington. The white pelicans’ range stretches across much of the country but not into Western Washington. Read more...