Pelicans return to Wisconsin

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2002

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- After disappearing for more than a century in Wisconsin, white pelicans -- with their long wing spans and orange beaks -- have returned in surprising numbers to the area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 1,200 birds, including young, are living on Horicon Marsh. The birds have also been seen in Marquette County and along the Mississippi River.

''People are just astounded when they see we have pelicans in Wisconsin,'' said Bill Volkert, wildlife educator and naturalist for the state Department of Natural Resources at Horicon Marsh.

The first recorded young were born around Horicon Marsh seven years ago, said Tom Erdman, curator of the Richter Museum of Natural History in Green Bay.

In recent years, white pelicans began moving back from growing populations in western Minnesota, the Dakotas and Canada. The birds, which can weigh up to 17 pounds, migrate to mid-Atlantic states for the winter.

A nesting colony was documented in the 1880s at the aptly named Pelican Lake in Oneida County, but pelicans were not reported in Wisconsin until a few years ago. They were probably killed off by hunters, he said.

Last year, 300 pelicans were born on Cat Island near Green Bay, but Erdman said he would be lucky to count 200 this year, because of the long, chilly spring.

Daryl Christensen, vice president for the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, said the white pelican will become a common species in Wisconsin within the next decade. Erdman guessed that before long the pelicans would spread to all the Great Lakes states.

Birders are thrilled to have pelicans, with their 8-foot wing spans, back in the state, Christensen said.

''Your average birder likes big birds,'' he said. ''They're visible, they're noisy, they look neat and they fly in formations.''

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