Thousands of American white pelicans that abandoned the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in central North Dakota after their chicks mysteriously died appear to have headed across the border to Canada, in southern Manitoba.
BISMARCK, N.D. Thousands of American white pelicans that abandoned the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in central North Dakota after their chicks mysteriously died appear to have headed across the border to Canada, in southern Manitoba.
"Anything that holds water and fish seems have found a pelican, and even places that don't," said Ken DeSmet, an endangered species biologist for the Manitoba Conservation agency. "It's obvious that they are all over the place in areas you wouldn't normally see them."
"I'm sure they're Chase Lake birds," said Ken Torkelson, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Bismarck.
Biologists in both countries are baffled about the influx of the big white birds north of the border, and the exodus from the south.
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that about 18,850 pelicans returned to the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Medina in late May to nest. The count last month showed that only 280 of their chicks survived, after some 8,000 died during the spring and early summer nesting period, Torkelson said.
Last year, nearly 30,000 adult pelicans abandoned the refuge, leaving their live chicks and eggs behind, Torkelson said. This year, he said, the adults left after the chicks died.
Torkelson said Wednesday that less than 100 young birds remain at the 4,385-acre refuge, and the adult population has dropped to less than 300.
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. The pelicans normally stay at the refuge through September, raising their young and feasting on crawfish, small fish and salamanders from small prairie ponds within a 100-mile radius of the refuge.
Most of the birds in Canada are about 300 miles from the North Dakota refuge, "as the pelican flies," DeSmet said.
Randy Mooi, curator of zoology at the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, said unusually high numbers of pelicans began appearing in the province about two months ago, about the same time most left the North Dakota refuge.
"There has been quite a large inundation of pelicans, even in Winnipeg," Mooi said. "It's probably due to the Chase Lake collapse, but it's not easy to determine if they are Canadian American white pelicans, or if they are American American white pelicans."
Pelicans have been spotted in Winnipeg in places never seen before, including rainwater containment ponds, Mooi said. Minnows put in the ponds to control mosquitos probably attracted them, he said.
There were no extraordinary pelicans sightings in Manitoba last year, Mooi and DeSmet said.
Torkelson said he learned of the unusual number of pelicans across the border this week by reading a birdwatcher's Web site. Wildlife officials from both countries had not been in contact.
"Our communication isn't that good," Torkelson said.
Radio transmitters attached to eight pelicans from the Upper Midwest this year showed that the birds traveled throughout the Dakotas, and as far away as Iowa, but none had headed north, Torkelson said.
He said each tracking device costs about $4,000. The device gives a pelican's location, altitude, speed and heading.
Samples of dozens of dead pelicans from the reserve and from other parts of the Upper Midwest are being tested at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis.
Kathryn Converse, wildlife disease specialist with the center, said no diseases were found in the first batch of dead chicks sent to the lab in early July, though they appeared to have more lice than normal. Some of the chicks collected and sent to the lab later in the month had been infected with the West Nile virus, she said.
"The underlying push of what made them move out last year or this year, we really don't know and we're trying to figure it out," Converse said.
Source: Associated Press