Spring Spectacle: Pelicans migrate through MN

2:21 PM, Apr 15, 2008   |    comments
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It's a spring spectacle along the Mississippi River, as thousands of American White Pelicans make their annual migration through Minnesota. The large white and black birds are just beginning to enter Minnesota, moving north as ice comes off lakes and inland waterways. The pelicans are arriving from their wintering areas, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico region, and can been seen stopping for a much needed rest along the Mississipi River in places like Hastings. "Some people are surprised to see pelicans in Minnesota, they think of them as tropical," said Francie Cuthbert, University of Minnesota professor, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. Cuthbert said Minnesota, particularly the western part of the state, has a healthy pelican population. Birds moving through now will fan out, with some flying west, and some travelling into Canada to nest and lay their eggs next month. "As the ice opens up, they are pretty broadly distributed across the state in terms of their nesting," Cuthbert said. "People could see them on any of the large lakes. They will be stopping there for the night, sitting on the water where it's safe. They'll also be choosing to stay at places with good food supplies." That's because pelicans have a hearty appetite. One pelican can eat up to five pounds of fish per day. They are large birds, with wingspans of 6-9 feet, and they generally weigh between 10-17 pounds. Cuthbert says the pelican population is healthy and has actually been growing in recent years. They are protected as a native species under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. According to Cuthbert, a population survey conducted in 2004 counted 16,652 nesting pairs of pelicans in Minnesota. There are several large colonies of pelicans throughout the state and Marsh Lake, in western Minnesota, is home to one of the largest. "Given the year and where they're nesting, Marsh Lake is somtimes the largest colony (of nesting American White Pelicans) in North America," Cuthbert said. So keep an eye to the sky this spring - those black and white birds could be pelicans. Thousands of them will pass through Minnesota during migration time which will likely last another few weeks.

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