Have you ever wondered why we see so many pelicans in southwestern Minnesota? On Saturday, June 10th at Lac qui Parle State Park (LQPSP), CURE members, Minnesota Master Naturalists, and families camping in the park joined John Wollenberg from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) and Peg Furshong from CURE to learn about the American White Pelicans that call this state park home. In the 1960s it was discovered that pelicans were nesting on one of the islands in Lac qui Parle State Park. Over the years park staff tracked nesting pairs on the islands and in 2003 began aerial surveys to give estimated population counts.

They discovered, through this research, that cormorants, gulls, egrets and herons were all nesting on the islands, too. In the 1990s the pelican population in the park dropped significantly. This was due in part to diseases like New Castle Disease and West Nile as well as fox, skunk, coyote and other predators. Over the years the population re-established and now the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area (LQPWMA) is home to one of the largest White Pelican colonies in North America, with over 10,000 breeding pairs. Now, MN DNR staff continually monitor the birds and their nests in this unique habitat. They even gather groups of volunteers to band the birds for research. The data is sent to a bird banding lab in Maryland where the birds from all around the country are tracked. Through this data collection it’s been discovered that the pelicans will migrate as far south as Honduras and Guatemala. This rookery (where the bird colonies nest) has attracted researchers from all over the nation, and even television stations like the British Broadcasting Channel (BBC).

Can you believe it’s right in our own backyard? This presentation was part of the “Right in My Own Backyard” program at CURE that connects people in southwestern Minnesota to nature right in their own backyard. We want to thank John Wollenberg and the LQPSP staff for sharing their time and research with us, and for those who joined us to learn about these remarkable birds that call the park home.