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Lost pelicans spotted in Minnesota: North Dakota birds found in Becker and nearby counties

Where have all the American white pelicans gone?...

Where have all the American white pelicans gone? To Becker and neighboring counties, for starters.

For unknown reasons, virtually the entire population of 35,000 pelicans at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Medina, N.D., left about a month ago.

Even more strange is the adult female birds had nested, and the eggs had either hatched or were about to within days of when it happened.

Larger than usual numbers of pelicans have been reported at such places as Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Detroit Lakes.

Katie Haws, a nongame wildlife biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Bemidji, said there are 17 pelicans on the lake where she resides.


Normally, there aren't any.

Tamarac wildlife biologist Wayne Brininger has observed pelicans on Height of Land Lake, Tamarac Lake, Big Egg Lake and Flat Lake. There were up to 1,500 birds on an individual lake. He estimates the Tamarac area pelican population at 1,500 to 2,500.

"That is really uncommon for this part of the country for this time of the year," said Brininger.

Brininger noticed the pelicans about a day after receiving an e-mail notice from Chase Lake officials stating that widespread dispersal of their birds was possible.

American white pelicans are not uncommon in Minnesota. The primary site in this state is on the Minnesota River near Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area. Another large site is the Northwest Angle.

Haws said pelicans normally lay eggs in May, but will not renest if they are disturbed and go elsewhere.

"We have had a lot of inci-dental observations of increased numbers. In Otter Tail and Becker counties, there are lakes with groups of them roosting, hundreds where you normally don't see that many," stated Haws.

She said there have been several "weird" occurrences with Minnesota birds this year. For example, DNR personnel surveyed the Northwest Angle colony this spring. One of the islands where the birds nest con-tained 35 dead pelicans next to their abandoned nests.


Other bird species were dis-covered dead on that island, such as ringbill gulls.

"In all the years I've been surveying birds up there I've never seen anything like that," stated Haws.

Several bird carcasses were sent to the National Wildlife Health Laboratory to determine the cause.

Brininger said there have been other sightings of more pelicans around the state, including Leech Lake, Cass Lake and the Agassiz refuge area.

DNR area wildlife manager Earl Johnson said a pelican's diet consists of fish. The birds will work as a team in order to harvest minnows and fish up to one foot in length.

"It's like they herd fish toward the shore. As it gets shallow and fish up against the shoreline, they start dipping like crazy," said Johnson.

Unrelated to the Chase Lake situation, the DNR has been studying the historic breeding sites within Minnesota of the American white pelican and cor-morant. Part of that effort is to get a statewide population estimate of both species.

Haws expects the survey in-formation to be released next year.


Tim Kjos is a writer for the Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune, a Forum Communications newspaper

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