Pelicans – in Iowa?

American Lotus seedCorn or beef are probably what comes to mind when you think of Iowa, right?  But wildlife?  Not so much.  Well, that was the pleasant surprise I got during our stay in Amana, Iowa.  But allow me to digress for a moment…

Our only stay in Iowa was at the town of Amana, to learn about the colony that was settled here by Germans in the early 1900’s.  They came here to escape religious persecution in their homeland. To us, the Amana Village was just a small touristy town of quaint shops, and we didn’t find much there that spoke of their communal heritage.  After a bit of perusing the shops we left empty-handed, agreeing it was kind of a dud. Folks there didn’t seems to smile much.

Amana Colonies
Amana Village

Even though Amana Village was a bit of a letdown, the weather was nice so we focused our attention on one of our favorite outdoor activities – walking.  wpid30531-2014-09-20-IA-1590126-.jpgAfter walking around the acres of corn surrounding our home base at Amana Colonies RV Park (Steve’s review here), we went in search of other nearby walking trails.

Lily Lake, Iowa
Lily Lake

Fortunately, Lily Lake was only 3/4 mile away, so we could walk to it and then continue on its 3.1-mile paved recreational trail.  Called the Kolonieweg (colony path) Trail, it connects the villages of Amana and Middle Amana.  Although it wasn’t a very long trail, we enjoyed the fresh air as we walked around the lake and saw the occasional turtle or bird.

The lake derives its name from the thousands of yellow American Lotus which bloom every summer across its 170 acres.  But the blooms had already passed and the seeds were drying out by the time we arrived.

American Lily
Once the seeds dry, the empty pods remain and are used in floral arrangements
American Lotus leaves
The large round bluish-green leaves of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea)

Having found the trail, we walked there one day to discover that the lake is a year-round haven for various wildlife, and a rest spot for migrating birds.  And was I ever glad I had my camera when we came upon hundreds of resting birds during our walk.  It looked like everybody was stopping for a rest on this day!

Lily Lake, Iowa
A few geese secured their spots on the lake
Trumpeter swan
Iowa began a reintroduction program for Trumpeter Swans in the 1990’s
Great Blue Heron
Even a Great Blue Heron made an appearance!
American Coots
American Coots
Not sure what kind of ducks belong to these butts

We caught a glimmer of white specs flying overhead as we walked along.  They seemed to be just gliding and circling around, and we waited with anticipation for them to land.  There were hundreds of them wheeling overhead, swirling in the air and eyeing the lake below. Steve said they were waiting for a landing clearance from Air Traffic Control 🙂

At first I thought they must be the Whooping Cranes from Wisconsin, but I was wrong.

As they finally glided down onto the lake, I was surprised to discover they were White Pelicans!

White Pelicans

They came in, landing by the dozens.  Eventually they literally crowded large areas of the lake…

White Pelicans


Once they had touched down, a feeding frenzy began.  Even Steve stopped in his tracks to watch in fascination.  These birds literally teamed up in formations to herd fish into shallow areas of the water.  Then they simply dipped their heads below the surface to gobble up mouthfuls (or is it billfulls?) of gizzard shad, using their feet and wings to keep the hapless fish corralled.  Amazing!


Then they moved in unison, heading in another direction.  Fun to watch!


White Pelicans
Look at that big bill!

I learned later the American white pelican, has increasingly become a frequent Iowa summer resident and a recently established breeder in the state.  At this time of the year they are packing up and heading to their southern wintering grounds.  Watching them glide in the air was a beautiful sight, especially when the sun hit their glimmering white feathers at just the right angle.  And seeing them corral and gobble up the fish was a treat.  They put on a good show, and we were delighted to be at the lake at just the right time.  This event is repeated daily until late October, by which time they have all left for warmer territory.

Not to be outdone, thousands of Red-winged Blackbirds were also busy swooping and circling around the cornfields as we headed home.  What a sight to see!

Red winged black birds

On our last day in Iowa, we drove a few miles to F.W. Kent County Park to do some hiking on their trails.  I thought my posts about mushrooms were over, but look at these giant puffballs!

Well, Steve saw his tractors and engines, and I was able to enjoy the birds and wildlife of the area.  Given hints by the migratory birds and the changing colors of the leaves,  we have to continue our southward pilgrimage in order to avoid the upcoming bleak midwest weather.

Amana, Iowa




  1. Oh my gosh…flashback to the movie The Birds. What an amazing site. Did you cover you heads as they flew over? Paul has been struck three times. Twice in one day…good grief.

  2. I am not a big bird person but I do like the big guys. I use to read The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White to my students and since then I have always like Trumpet Swan. It’s not one you see very often. You photo is beautiful:)

    I began to enjoy the white pelican while in FL. I knew about their interesting fishing and eating technique but I’ve never seen enough of them together to witness what you saw, How great was your timing!! What a super experience! Had to laugh at Steve’s humor about the birds landing:) Good one. Steve!!

    Awesome capture with the Great Blue Heron:)

    Love that puff ball!!

    • The trumpeter swan was a treat more so with the White Pelicans. We have seen those birds up in the sky for three days in a row and never knew what they were until we came to the lake. I never knew how they herd fish as they were all just milling around when I saw them in Florida 🙂
      And yes the puffball, there were several of them on the trail!

  3. Mona Lisa: Thank you for your honest assessment of Amana Village Colony, itself. I had heard similar reports from others about the place. We (fellow travelers and fulltimers) do not get the benefits of evaluations of places if we are not up front about our experiences…. Again, thank you, Keep up the excellent BLOG!


  4. What a wonderful sighting and captures of the pelicans! They’re one of my favorite birds, and I agree, it’s really fun to watch them “herding” fish and working in unison. Beautiful photo of the Trumpeter Swan, too. Too bad Amana Colony was a dud, but you made the most of your visit to the area anyway. That puffball would have made several delicious meals!

  5. I agree with the comment about the movie “Birds”…first thing I thought of when I say the blackbirds over the corn field. The pelicans are amazing and what an unexpected treat to have. Wish I had been there!

  6. Well now I’m sorry we skipped Amana after researching it. I’d love to see such huge flocks of birds and a puffball as big as a chair. Your pictures are terrific! Thanks so much!! You definitely made the best of that area. Well done!!

  7. Wow!! An awesome sight indeed, Mona. I would have felt somewhat outnumbered. Yes, The movie “The Birds” also came to my mind. 😯 I adore mushrooms, and the bigger the better. 🙂

  8. I absolutely adore white pelicans and to see so many in one place, herding fish, would be fascinating. Love that image of the trumpeter swan. I have never seen such a large mushroom. I think we should call you the ‘mushroom hunter’ MonaLiza. 🙂

      • He was cute for sure. It seems like those white pelicans have made their home in many states. Sort of like us RVer’s, traveling around the country to see where we might want to call home someday. 🙂

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