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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Pelicans are nesting on this Nice Salt Lake island for the primary time since 1943

After seemingly flying the coop, pelicans have returned to nest within the Nice Salt Lake.

Final yr, after American white pelicans utterly deserted their nesting colony on Gunnison Island — situated on the northwest quadrant of the Nice Salt Lake — Utah’s Division of Wildlife Assets was curious to see what would occur in 2024.

Thankfully, the birds are again and have began nesting once more on Gunnison Island, in addition to Hat Island — a really small island within the south arm of the Nice Salt Lake. 

That is the primary time they’ve nested on Hat Island since 1943.

A flock of seven pelicans swim in the water
Photograph courtesy of Utah’s Division of Wildlife Assets

Each Gunnison and Hat Islands are owned by the DWR and have served as very important nesting areas for migrating pelicans over time, since they provide the birds much-needed isolation and safety. The islands are closed to guests, since even the smallest disturbances can affect the birds.

It’s unlawful for individuals to go inside one mile of the islands by land, air, or water — however the division is completely satisfied to share these thrilling updates with native hen lovers.

“Whats up once more, feathered buddies,” the DWR shared on social media earlier this week.

It appears to be like just like the birds are right here to remain — at the least till the tip of their nesting season in September.

Pelicans are very massive birds, which means their nesting interval takes a very long time, together with every week to court docket, construct a nest and lay eggs; a month to incubate the eggs; three weeks to feed a nestling; and 9 to 10 weeks to look after a pre-fledgling.

“In complete, this course of takes about 4 months or longer, so pelicans want a protected area for an extended time frame, and distant islands present that safety,” DWR Nice Salt Lake ecosystem program supervisor John Luft stated in a press release.

With low water ranges, nonetheless, each islands have grow to be rife with predators like coyotes, pushing the pelicans to desert their properties.

In 2014, the DWR started efforts to place transmitters on these pelicans, conducting annual surveys to observe populations that use the Nice Salt Lake throughout spring and fall migrations. It was on April 29 of this yr that biologists confirmed that the pelicans have been once more nesting at Hat Island.

“So far as we will inform, pelicans are nesting at Hat Island once more as a result of some could also be a bit of ‘gun shy’ about nesting at Gunnison Island after the disturbances that led to the colony abandonment final yr,” Luft defined. 

“So this yr, some birds determined to discover a new location to nest that’s nonetheless near the wealthy meals sources in wetlands on the japanese shore of the Nice Salt Lake.”

A pelican flies toward a body of water
Photograph courtesy of Utah’s Division of Wildlife Assets

Monitoring surveys for this season are nonetheless ongoing, and pelicans are persevering with to reach at their nesting colonies, so the DWR doesn’t but have a last tally of what number of pelicans have returned this yr. Nonetheless, preliminary estimates present 800 birds on Gunnison Island, and about 1,300 on Hat Island.

In 2022 and 2023, the Gunnison Island pelican colony solely had about 2,900 nests, with roughly 5,800 breeding adults — the bottom quantity because the Seventies. 

Not solely is that this yr’s return promising for the wetland atmosphere, but it surely signifies hope in regards to the inhabitants as an entire.

“General, pelican populations are doing effectively, and even the overall abandonment of the Gunnison Island colony final yr had little affect on the continental pelican inhabitants,” Luft stated. 

“Seeing birds nesting at each islands once more is an efficient signal that exhibits the resiliency of breeding pelicans to re-establish historic pelican nesting colonies.”

To maintain pelicans protected, consultants have made it clear that the Nice Salt Lake’s water ranges play an essential position.

“Sadly, each Hat Island and Gunnison Island are nonetheless accessible to land-based disturbance, although lake ranges are at the moment rising,” DWR Nice Salt Lake Ecosystem Program Wildlife Biologist John Neill stated in a press release.

“The specter of nesting colony abandonment will proceed to persist so long as the islands aren’t surrounded by water.” 

Utah's Great Salt Lake
Photograph courtesy of John Morgan (CC BY 2.0)

In truth, to get the lake as much as a wholesome stage inside 30 years, it might want to see common inflows enhance by 471,000 acre-feet a yr, in line with the College of Utah. That’s a roughly 33% enhance within the quantity that has reached the lake lately.

Between sturdy water conservation efforts, shepherding that water again to the lake, and mitigating the rising temperatures of local weather change via significant laws, consultants imagine there’s hope. 

“Choice-makers should stability human, ecological, and financial well being as they take actions to enhance water administration, mitigate adversarial impacts, and enhance water deliveries to the lake,” stated William Anderegg, director of the Wilkes Heart for Local weather Science & Coverage and co-chair of the college’s Nice Salt Lake Strike Workforce.

The strike crew’s newest evaluation “makes clear the challenges Utah faces, but in addition demonstrates the worth of working collectively, in a data-informed manner, to make sure the well being and sustainability of Nice Salt Lake,” he continued.

Whereas a lot of the duty to enhance the Nice Salt Lake is on people, the pelicans show that there’s trigger for hope.

“Overjoyed to see how water conservation and two good water years could make such an enormous distinction,” nonprofit Utah Water Savers commented on DWR’s social media submit in regards to the return of the pelicans.

“Our work is just not accomplished but, although.”

Header picture courtesy of Brian Forsyth/Pexels

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