Did you know the know the bump on a pelican’s bill is called a love bump? Pelicans use them to attract mates, after that, they fall off. Peg Furshong, Minnesota Master Naturalist from CURE taught this and more in a class all about pelicans last week. She went with John Wallenberg of the MN DNR to Lac qui Parle State Park. Wallenberg is a pilot, so they were able to fly over the pelican rookeries as well as get a close up view. She presented the photos, as well as example bands they put on the birds.
The Minnesota River Valley is one of the largest rookeries in the nation, Marsh Lake is another one in Minnesota. There are about 18 total in the US, Canada has about 30.
The American White Pelican was endangered in the 1960s. Back then in Minnesota the numbers were as low as 50-70 mating pairs. Now there are over 10,000 pairs in Minnesota alone. It takes pelicans three years to mature, and they live for about 15-20 years.
Pelicans lay two or three eggs at a time, called a clutch. The nests are pretty basic, they make a small depression in the dirt, and maybe use some twigs or reeds from the water or grass nearby. They prefer to lay eggs in rocky areas or compacted soil. The eggs take two to three days to hatch, but as the birds are developing, they are able to make noise to indicate if they are too hot or too cold.
The babies are born naked, no feathers. They look orange. When they become teenagers they look gray. They will be ready to leave the nest after about five weeks, needing about 150 lbs. of food during that time.
Adult pelicans eat about four to six pounds of fish a day. Despite common belief, they do not eat game fish. They usually eat bottom feeders. They are opportunistic eaters, other food include salamanders, toads, commonly found in marsh areas.
Pelicans work in groups, spreading out and using their wings to box fish in for an easy feast. They’ll leave early in the morning and try to get back before the heat of the day. They will travel up to 60-100 miles for food. The reason they like to hang out by the Granite Falls dam is the generator shreds fish when they go over the edge.
They will migrate south for the winter, some have been found to migrate as far as Honduras and Guatemala.
Pelicans are fragile. If the nests are disturbed, by people or something else, like extreme weather or predators, they will abandon the nests and the babies. Predators include ravens, skunks, coyotes, red foxes, great horned owls, bald eagles, and disease. The West Nile Virus tore through the pelican population in the 1990s.
Bemidji and St. Cloud State have research centers doing work to help pelicans. They band the birds, which helps track migration and investigations, like cause of death. The data is sent to a bird banding lab in Maryland, which tracks bird populations from all over the world.