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American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos); Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

This small study of a couple of American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) was done for fun, experimenting with colors and techniques in oils on a birch panel without trying to create a full-fledged painting. It was done after watching pelicans amid the island archipelago in the middle of the southwestern end of Lake Erie, where for some years now, efforts by pelicans to nest on Middle Island, a tiny, uninhabited island that is the southernmost part of Canada, have been thwarted by Parks Canada, which, unfortunately, manages the island as part of Point Pelee National Park. That management involves killing large numbers of nesting Double-crested Cormorants, and in the process chasing away many of the herons and egrets who also nest there, and keeping the pelicans too disturbed to nest there, although they have, with varying degrees of success and failure, managed to nest on other islands in the archipelago. A persistent pair of Bald Eagles (significant predators of cormorants) were trying to nest there when I visited last spring.

For the pelicans this all represents a significant shift in their nesting range, southward from their nearest nesting location, on the north side of Lake Superior, many hundreds of kilometers away. And I finally decided to send this study around when, in mid-September of this year, well over a thousand pelicans gathered, for the first time in recorded history, at Fish Point, Pelee Island, a short distance across the water from Middle Island. There are far more pelicans than could be accounted for by local breeding birds, giving weight to my own prediction that we are seeing pelicans trying to colonize the lower great lakes.


While Parks Canada shoots cormorants to prevent cormorant excrement from killing common plants that are, however, rare as far north as Ontario (or to see what the effect of killing the birds might be), cormorants are hated for other reasons, mostly the absurd accusation that they “eat all the fish”. Ontario even re-defined what a “game bird” is, to allow cormorants to be hunted, ignoring the basic principles of utilization (the birds are allowed to be wasted, given that they are nearly inedible to most tastes); fair chase (they are easily shot, nearly all of the ones killed being a few months old) and science-based management (there is no way to know how many cormorants there are or how many are killed, with bag limit being fifteen per day from September 15 until December 31st, although most have migrated out of the province once ice starts to form). 

Given the similarities of the two species (they cohabit nesting colonies, when allowed to do so and are obligate fish eaters) I thought I’d include a similar study done around the same time, of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax [Nannopterum] auritus). Pelicans also eat fish, and like the cormorants before them, are increasing in areas where people are not used to seeing them. Like cormorants they consume fish, more per bird, in fact, and I suppose it is just a matter of time before people start hating them, too, although we can hope that the current provincial government will be gone before that happens.


The theory is that overfishing of larger fish has long since changed the fish population of the Great Lakes in favor of greater numbers of smaller species, including such non-native ones as Alewives, Round Gobies, Rainbow Smelt and Micropterus “bass”, as well as a burgeoning plenitude of such native species as Walleyes and Yellow Persch. Assuredly the presence of both species indicates robust populations of prey. Both studies are in oils, the pelicans on birch, 10 inches by 12 inches mounted on a wooden frame backing about 1 and three quarter inches thick; the cormorant on compressed hardboard, about 12 by 9 inches. While still listed in the genus, Phalacrocorax in the checklist I follow, elsewhere the Double-crested Cormorant has been placed in the genus, Nannopterum. I’ve also snuck in two of my little watercolours, a Bald Eagle, and an Alewife.



Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada



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