BAY VIEW — Mary Heath and Joe Bucek have grown accustomed to seeing birds in Padilla Bay from the windows of their waterfront home. But the couple spotted something rare Thursday afternoon.
A group of about two-dozen American white pelicans spent several hours dining in the bay.
The phrase “when the tide goes out, the table is set” is often used to describe the appeal of the Padilla Bay mudflats has for resident birds such as the great blue heron. But white pelicans aren’t known to nest in, breed in, or migrate over Western Washington.
“They’re very uncommon here,” Padilla Bay Education Coordinator Glen “Alex” Alexander said.
The large bird, with about a 9-foot wingspan, is rarely seen in Washington, according to the National Audubon Society.
According to state and federal wildlife agencies, the western population of the pelicans primarily breed in Wyoming, Montana and British Columbia.
Longtime local bird expert Libby Mills, who is active with the Skagit Audubon Society, said she has never seen a white pelican in Skagit County.
She has seen them along the Columbia River, flying over the Methow Valley and in British Columbia.
White pelicans have been documented along the Columbia River and in lake areas in eastern Washington since the mid-1990s, according to the state Department of Fish & Wildlife. The first record of white pelicans in the Columbia River estuary on the west side of the state was in 2010.
What Heath and Bucek saw Thursday was unique.
“We live right down on the bay and have a great view of birds and happened to notice these great big white birds larger than snow geese,” Heath said. “We put our spotting scopes on them and there they were.”
She said the group moved together in a sort of dance while eating fish along the tide line.
“It’s a beautiful, ballet kind of thing. It’s just amazing,” Heath said.
White pelicans are known to forage for fish together in coordinated swimming groups, according to Fish & Wildlife.
Heath said she found a YouTube video representative of what she and Joe Bucek saw Thursday.
As the sun set, the pelicans moved toward Samish Island. The couple said there were no signs of the birds Friday.