Western Water News

Your Observations Can Help American White Pelicans

How much do we really understand about American White Pelicans in the face of changing environments? You can add to the knowledge base of how the pelicans react to varying water levels and climate change simply by observing these magnificent birds with 9-foot wingspans and bright orange bills.

One of North America’s largest nesting colonies of White Pelicans is found on Gunnison Island in the Great Salt Lake’s north arm. Each year thousands of these birds nest in this isolated location. Researchers from the Utah Division of Wildlife and Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Project aided by the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College, have developed the Great Salt Lake PELI Project to improve understanding of the pelican’s migratory and breeding habits and survival rates.

The PELI Project—Partnership for Education and Longitudinal Investigation of American White Pelicans—revolves around placing leg bands and green wing tags with white coding on fledgling birds for spotting. If you see a pelican with wing tags, report the sighting to reportband.gov or email johnneill@utah.gov. Be sure to include the date, location, and if possible the tag color and the code. Photos of the tag / pelican are helpful and can be included in the report. (According to the Utah Division of Wildlife website, you may spot other pelican tag colors and banding origin including: red from Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge, ID; black from Blackfoot Reservoir, ID; light blue from Strawberry Reservoir, UT, and green, blue or yellow with black coding from Minnesota and South Dakota.)   

If you visit Utah, you can observe the pelicans at many locations around the Great Salt Lake. Access to Gunnison Island is limited to authorized persons, but with the support of Tracy Aviary, a PELIcam has been installed on Gunnison Island for observing pelican behavior. You can view time-lapse images at the Great Salt Lake Institute’s website

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