From the Magazine

Pelican Conservation Goes High Tech

Tracking pelicans from Minnesota marshes to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Minnesota is home to up to 20 percent of the world’s American white pelicans. So when the state’s Department of Natural Resources discovered contaminants from the 2010 BP oil spill in pelican eggs there—more than 1,200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico—the government agency, Audubon Minnesota, and North Dakota State University quickly teamed up to monitor the birds.

The idea was to use Mississippi Flyway data to make connections between Gulf wintering areas and Minnesota nesting grounds, and to help shape conservation efforts, says Mark Martell, Audubon Minnesota’s bird conservation director. “From a conservation standpoint, you can’t conserve birds in one place,” he says. “You need to look at their entire lifecycle.”

In May 2012 the trio placed 70-gram, solar-powered transmitters on six pelicans from western Minnesota’s Marsh Lake colony. Four of the birds have been successfully tracked on their winter migration; one individual ended up as far south as Veracruz, Mexico. The tracking, showcased on a real-time map (, will likely continue until spring 2015.

This story originally ran in the July-August 2013 issue as "Pelican Brief .”


Stay abreast of Audubon

Get updates about our conservation work and how to help birds.