A top federal wildlife official says the pelican mystery at the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge may be a natural correction. Nearly 30,000 white pelicans abandoned the refuge last year, leaving eggs and chicks behind.
CHASE LAKE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, N.D. A top federal wildlife official says the pelican mystery at the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge may be a natural correction.
William Hartwig, the chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge System, got a tour of the refuge near Medina in central North Dakota on Wednesday, with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Nearly 30,000 white pelicans abandoned the refuge last year, leaving eggs and chicks behind. This year, refuge officials estimated about 8,000 young white pelicans died during the spring and early summer nesting period, and more adults left.
"I'm concerned but I'm not alarmed," Hartwig said.
Dorgan and Hartwig peered through spotting scopes at the remaining pelicans and got briefings from Dave Bolin, a manager at the refuge, and Marsha Sovada, a biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown.
Sovada said Wednesday that about 280 chicks remain at the 4,385-acre refuge, and the adult population has dropped to about 600.
Hartwig said pelicans typically have "more bad years than good years" in their natural reproductive process.
"You can't look at one or two years," Hartwig said. "You have to look at the lifetime of the bird."
Bob Barrett, the deputy refuge superintendent for North Dakota and South Dakota, said the overall continental population of the pelicans has increased 280 percent in the past 20 years,
"The continental population is still healthy," Barrett said.
Dorgan there may be some plausible reason for the pelican exodus, but he wants to make sure the pelicans are not "sort of a canary in a mine shaft, signaling a larger problem that needs more attention."
The white pelican colony at the Chase Lake refuge has been known as the largest in North America, peaking at 35,466 birds in 2000. Officials have been studying disease and predator problems, but they say they may never know exactly why thousands of birds left.
The white pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, has a wingspan of nearly 10 feet and live about 25 years. Officials say it breeds only once a year.
Source: Associated Press