White Pelicans Returning to N.D. Refuge

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 26, 2006; 8:25 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Biologists estimate that about 16,000 adult white pelicans have returned to the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge to nest, after mysterious die-offs and departures of the birds the past two years.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center in Jamestown checked the island nesting colonies last week and counted about 8,000 nests, said Ken Torkelson, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Bismarck office. Biologists estimate two adults per nest.

"There are usually two eggs per nest but usually only one chick survives," Torkelson said.

The birds are returning from their winter grounds in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The white pelican colony at the 4,385-acre Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge north of Medina has been the largest in North America, peaking at 35,466 birds in 2000.

White pelicans normally return to the refuge during the first two weeks of April, though some are expected to continue arriving for another month, Torkelson said.

The pelicans probably have starting laying eggs.

"Some of the birds holding pretty close to their nests, so that's and indication they probably are," Torkelson said.

The white pelican, one of the largest birds in North America, breeds only once a year, and males and females take turns caring for their young. The birds have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet and live about 25 years.

In 2004, nearly 30,000 pelicans left the Chase Lake refuge, leaving their chicks and eggs behind. Last year, the refuge saw a massive die-off of pelican chicks, followed by an exodus of their parents.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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