On, or around Thursday, June 27 as many as 150-300 American White Pelicans descended on downtown Granite Falls and took up residence in and around the rushing waters below the Granite Falls dam.
It's more pelicans than locals can remember ever seeing gliding through the river concourse, nestled among the rip-rap in judgement, or trolling the rapids with stately peculiarity.
Yet, it's not the renowned Granite Falls hospitality, or scenic wonderment the flying bag-billed curiosities have come seeking, said Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area Supervisor Dave Trauba, it's the food.
"Their appearance there is related to a food source," said Trauba who oversees the nesting of roughly 30,000 pelicans at the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area and Marsh Lake (probably where these birds hail from). "It tells me they're finding fish there and to have them show up at one time just displays the amazing communication between wildlife and other birds. They're like fisherman. A couple of birds probably stopped there, found the fishing was good and the word got out. In just a day a food rich area can attract thousands of birds."
American White Pelicans were driven to near extinction in the early 20th century from human pressures, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). There were no reports of nesting pelicans in Minnesota for 90 years, from 1878 until 1968.
Conservation efforts and federal regulations have helped pelican populations make a slow and steady comeback. "The prairie pothole region of western Minnesota hosts 22 percent of the global population of this species," according to Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer, DNR nongame wildlife specialist. In Minnesota, there are estimated to be about 22,000 pairs of pelicans that nest at 16 sites on seven lakes across the state.
Though pelicans have become more numerous in recent years, Trauba said breeding numbers around Lac qui Parle were actually down this year. So the appearance of pelicans in Granite Falls isn't just a result of an increased population. Though he said he couldn't confirm it, Trauba hypothesized that the recent removal of the Minnesota Falls Dam has moved their best feeding spot up-river to the next place fish are forced to stop. "Any dam site is a barrier to fish, the pelicans are probably just following them to this next bottle-neck point," said Trauba.
The numbers of pelicans below the Granite Falls Dam has receded since the population boom just over a week ago. "When the food source changes that will decline their taking advantage of it," said Trauba who also explained that pelicans generally prefer slower moving, shallow, water. "They're a shallow feeding bird. They're not like cormorants who dive, they generally work together to herd fish into shallow water before scooping them up," said Trauba. "I'm sure below the dam it's a little more challenging and they're probably using a foreign strategy for their fishing."
Page 2 of 2 - So—all fisherman—take note of the pelican.