an unexpected visitor

Back when we had sunny days a couple of weeks ago, I found a lone Pelican resting at the edge of the Grass Lake marsh.  What was it doing here, all by itself?  Why was it so sedentary, just sitting for hours on the dead cattails?  I guess I’ll never know, but the bird has since disappeared.  Other visitors speculated that it was sitting on a nest — nope, I verified that when it stood up.  Some thought it might be injured and couldn’t fly away. That’s possible, since it was so sedentary, and it did look like one wing was sort of droopy.

White Pelican-

Just sitting, enjoying the early morning sun

White Pelican-

Yawning, stretching, and finding a new sitting position. No nest under its body, and I wouldn’t think the Pelican would try to nest out in the open like this all by itself.

White Pelicans, once rare here, now choose the shallow prairie pothole lakes in western and southwestern Minnesota to breed.  They have rebounded dramatically from a complete absence of nesting birds over the period from 1878 to 1968 to over 20,000 nesting pairs in Minnesota currently, largely due to the conservation and management efforts of the non-game wildlife staff in the MN Department of Natural Resources.

White Pelicans typically migrate from their winter headquarters in the gulf to Minnesota lakes in early spring (March).  It’s a welcome sight to see them in formation overhead, white bodies and wings outlined with black wing tips soaring overhead.

white-pelicans flying-



White Pelicans at Pelican Lake, Minnesota photographed in April 2014.

Pelicans are highly social and nest in large aggregations.  They live and hunt communally, using teamwork to scare up and harvest fish from the surface of the water. A single Pelican foraging for itself, like the one I found at Grass Lake, might be far less effective in gathering food.  I hope it recovered and flew off to join its friends somewhere on a distant lake.

3 thoughts on “an unexpected visitor

  1. Sue – Why did birds like Pelicans and Wild Turkeys mostly disappear around the turn of the century? I thought they disappeared due to DDT in the 1950-1960s but you say it happened as early as the 1870s?

    • Hi Liz, thanks for the good question! You’re right that many bird species did suffer marked declines in population due to DDT and other pesticides, but these were primarily birds at the top of the food chain, like Bald Eagles, that had accumulated toxic levels of the pesticide found in their prey over several years. Other species were affected by a variety of man-made changes in their habitat like draining lakes and logging forests (e.g., turkeys, pelicans), over-hunting (e.g., turkeys, swans, geese), collection for plumes to decorate ladies’ hats (e.g., egrets), and destruction or contamination of winter (non-breeding) habitat. Remediation of some of these sources of decline in bird populations by various conservation and state natural resources agencies have had dramatic, positive results, but the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides still threatens many small songbird species that depend on insects and plant nectar and/or seeds.

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