This year’s wetter conditions have seen more pelicans than usual setting up inland to feed and breed. Two large colonies of 30,000 and 12,000 pelicans are in their final stages in the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee valleys after more than 6 months of breeding activity.
Michele Groat, from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, said with inland lakes, dams and wetlands full and productivity booming over spring and summer, the pelicans turned up in the thousands.
“Pelicans like to breed in large groups (called colonies) and nest on ground surrounded by water to protect their chicks from predators.
“Environmental water holders, scientists, water managers and the Nari Nari Tribal Council worked together to keep water levels stable at the breeding sites to protect the birds as much as possible. Without actively managing the site, if water-levels got too high many chicks would have drowned and if water levels got too low the nests would have been very exposed to predators, like pigs and foxes.”
It is vital that nests are in a location with a ready supply of food, as it takes four months for chicks to become totally independent. Pelicans are big eaters with adults consuming up to 1.8 kg a day. Pelicans mainly eat fish but their diet is supplemented with tadpoles, crustaceans, turtles and even other birds.
“An additional benefit of having two large pelican breeding events in the area was that they are very effective at reducing local carp numbers,” Ms Groat added.
Flying pelicans are currently being observed in large numbers as the juveniles grow old enough to fly and food sources decline – they will be casing out other areas to feed.
Scientists from the NSW Department of Planning and Environment applied leg bands to around 300 juvenile birds from both colonies so more information can be discovered about the movements of the young birds. Pelicans from the Lachlan colony at Brewster were given an orange leg band, whereas pelicans caught from the Gayini colony in the lower Murrumbidgee were given blue leg bands.
There is still a lot to learn about this majestic bird, like how do tens of thousands navigate to the same sites to breed when conditions are just right? Banding birds is one small step in learning more about pelicans and their requirements so we can manage our resources to improve their chances of survival.