August is the month with a lot of meaning for me — from sunnier skies and locally grown sweet corn, to monarch butterflies on the move.
August also means American white pelicans, which show up on Minnesota lakes and ponds looking for new fishing spots.
I have been watching them in the Lake Waconia area. Lately they have been seen on the former sewage ponds in Le Sueur.
Often in flocks, white pelicans have black wing tips, massive yellow-orange bills and large throat pouches. With a 9-foot wingspan, the bird is among the largest in Minnesota.
The pelicans have experienced steep declines. They are especially sensitive to humans and are easily scared off their nests, causing them to abandon their eggs. There were no reports of them nesting in Minnesota from 1878 to 1968. By 2017 wildlife biologists estimated that about 22,000 pairs of pelicans nested on seven lakes across the state. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ conservation efforts and federal regulations have helped the pelicans’ comeback.
They spend winters along the Gulf coast from Florida to Mexico, and return to Minnesota in spring as ice is going out. More than 20% of the continent’s population takes up summer residence in our state. They are ground-nesters, preferring remote islands secure from predators. Marsh Lake, located near Ortonville and Appleton, Minn., hosts the largest portion of the state’s breeding population. A few other nesting areas are Lake of the Woods, Leech Lake, Pelican Lake in Wright County, and Minnesota Lake in Faribault County.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.