by Rebecca Meacham
These words seem worlds apart. But for our 2019 Festival, pelicans are the centerpiece of our branding.
Now, we’re pretty sure pelicans don’t read books. So how did this concept come about?
UntitledTown Designer Alex Pichette explains: “My initial idea for a main festival poster was to have a lone feather quill be the hero, giving a nod to the roots of writing. That would connect the authors and Festival to my drawings, which I drew using an Apple Pencil.”
At this point, Alex had already drawn a series of individual headliner portraits for posters and merchandise.
Then, our Marketing Director Morgan Moran took the feather quill concept and, well, gave it wings.
Alex says, “Morgan sort of one upped me and pitched a pelican flying over the bay. Naturally, I decided to draw the Leo Frigo and a tiny scene of wetland.”
The Leo Frigo Memorial bridge is a postcard-perfect, 1.5 mile tier-arched bridge that carries I-43 over the Fox River.
“As you know,” Alex adds, “the Leo Frigo is the gateway to Green Bay, and this event will be kicking off spring. Pelicans are a welcome scene when they return every spring. It seemed like a great fit.”
For Morgan, the return of the pelicans is what makes Green Bay unique.
“All of Wisconsin has robins. But only Green Bay has white pelicans en masse! THOUSANDS!”
She’s struck by the contrast of pelicans soaring amidst coal piles and factory-made clouds: “Watching them swim, dip, hunt and swagger for females is this beautiful ballet that happens inexplicably by an industrious paper mill. It’s like they pose as our unofficial mascot.”
Plus, “I love how prehistoric they look. I love that they bring beauty to an otherwise gritty arena.”
And Morgan loves “the dinner party trivia they teach us: During the breeding season, both males and females develop a pronounced bump on the top of their large beaks. This conspicuous growth is shed by the end of the breeding season.”
Other seasonal finery includes a plume of fluffy feathers along the back of the pelican’s head, according to Carmen Murach, Curator of Animals at the Northeastern Wisconsin (NEW) Zoo and Adventure Park.
So it’s a stone-cold fact that “the pelicans are prettier when they’re in Wisconsin.”
Carmen says pelicans used to be rather rare in this area of Wisconsin, but around the early 2000s, they began arriving in droves. Now, around 4000 birds migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to fish the open waters around Green Bay each spring, and Green Bay is the biggest pelican breeding ground in Wisconsin.
Once they’re here, these birds—officially named the American white pelican— parade, pair up, and nest in the Cat Island chain in shallow, marshy areas. They’re colonial nesters— they cooperate in groups to guard and parent their chicks.
“Males and females co-parent equally,” Carmen notes. “Then, once the babies have grown and are less helpless, the kids all hang out as a group while the parents go out and fish.”
Once fully grown, a mature pelican has a wingspan of 9 feet and stands up to three feet tall.
“So they must weigh, what, like eighty pounds?” this reporter asked.
“Well, bird bones are hollow,” Carmen began.
“Right. Birds are made to fly!” this reporter, a lifelong learner, realized.
“Which means that mature pelicans weigh about fifteen pounds,” Carmen corrected, as sweetly as, well, birdsong.
The pelicans arrive each April—and this year, according to sightings, they’re here now, in March—and return to the Gulf of Mexico each September. In the meantime, if you’re around the DePere dam, or in the Leo Frigo area, be sure to look up in the sky.
The most wondrous sight, says Carmen, is watching them soar.
“Sometimes you can glimpse of a spiral of birds as they ride the thermals, their wings white and glinting in the sunshine.”
(We think Carmen Murach should join a poetry workshop at UntitledTown.)
We invite you all to join us at UntitledTown as we give wings to words.
As Morgan puts it, “Pelicans are elegant and strange and hopeful and capable — kind of like us.”