First pelican spotting marks coming of spring

First pelican spotting marks coming of spring
The ‘lookout’ pelican was spotted April 26 above Fort Smith, while the rest of the flock went to the Salt Plains to wait for breakup.

The Slave River pelicans have returned North.

Francois Paulette informed The Journal that he spotted a pelican circling Fort Smith on April 26, exactly the same day the first pelican was spotted last year. At nearly the same time, Sgt. Kevin Platford of the Fort Smith RCMP spotted the same bird circling above McDougal St.

Pelican Advisory Circle member Jacques van Pelt speculated that the pelican was most likely the “lookout.”

Van Pelt explained that the pelicans start off their time in our area on the Salt River in the salt plains of Wood Buffalo National Park, where the Salt River meets the Brine River.

While most of the birds loaf and eat there, one member of the flock spends his days on the islands in the Slave River as a lookout, waiting for the ice to break up.

Once the ice moves down the river the lookout will fly to Salt River to alert the rest of the pelicans that they can return to their seven islands near Pelican Rapids for the summer season.

Pelicans mate for life, and always nest in pairs. The nesting initiation begins when the female picks a suitable spot and settles down to create her nest. The male then starts collecting sticks and twigs, bringing them to his mate who builds a nest-mound roughly 18 inches in diameter.

Two or three days after building a nest, the female lays her eggs – on average, 2.3 eggs per nest. Chicks are born four weeks after an egg is laid. Last year 550 nests were counted, down from over 700 in 2009.

As white pelican populations are very sensitive, no one is allowed near the nesting grounds from April 15 until September 15.

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