A discarded fishing line had disrupted the bird's typical migratory route through Saline County. While thousands of other pelicans flew free, this line had tangled the bird's nine-foot wing span. Mothershead transported the injured pelican in a pet carrier to Lakeside Nature Center in Kansas City. Eventually, he hopes the pelican can return to the wild and continue its typical journey.
"Man that thing was mad," Mothershead said. "... That's a prime example of why [littering] can harm wildlife. If we didn't get that bird, it would have died where it was at."
As the birds lined the Miami Access and swarmed Teteseau Lake, Saline County residents and visitors wondered about the odd-looking birds.
"They're ground nesters like a duck or a goose, but they're just way, way different birds," Mothershead said. "I think people are surprised to see them."
Mothershead explained American white pelicans nest in southern Canada and north-central United States in the summer, but each year flocks migrate along the Missouri River. Saline County serves as a resting place for the birds as they travel to the Gulf Coast, Texas and Mexico for the winter.
Mothershead cited this year's warm weather and abundance of carp as potential answers to the increase of pelicans.
Chris Freeman with Grand Pass Conservation Area noticed an influx of pelicans too. As a wetland specialist, he acknowledged their patterns lack predictability. Freeman cited the birds' dietary needs, condition upon arrival and weather, specifically this year's warm winter, as possible variables.
"It was a spectacle," Freeman said. "The number of birds was just phenomenal. I've never seen anything like it."
Mothershead and Freeman said these birds typically arrive in February and stay until March, but this year the pelicans rested in Saline County until April. While the birds have flown north for the summer, Mothershead anticipates they'll return in late September as they journey south.
"This place is the major truck stop for birds on their migratory north and south," he said. "It's just a natural funnel."