Great Salt Lake Pelicans Under Threat

May 28, 2018

The shrinking Great Salt Lake threatens American White pelican breeding grounds.
Credit Utah Department of Natural Resources

According to John Neill, an avian biologist with the Utah Department of Natural Resources, a shrinking Great Salt Lake has serious consequences for the migratory bird populations that call the lake home throughout the year. 

The largest nesting colony of American White pelicans in the western United States reside on Gunnison Island. "On average we get about 10,000 breeding adults over the last ten years, so that’s about 5,000 nests," said Neill. 

But as the Great Salt Lake shrinks, the breeding grounds for the pelican colony are under threat from wildlife and humans.   

"Dropping water levels of the lake is important for Gunnison Island pelican colony because if it drops too low the island becomes a peninsula and is accessible by land either by coyotes or people that might cause disturbance," he said. "Even just one coyote at the wrong time of year can cause the whole colony to abandon. So all the young pelicans will die if the adults abandon the colony. So if it drops below a certain lake level there’s a chance the colony might not exist any more."

The public can get involved in monitoring Great Salt Lake pelicans by reporting banded pelicans.

"If anyone sees a pelican with a green wing tag or any other tag, they can contact me at johnneill@utah.gov or they can also report their sightings at reportband.gov."

The public can find out more information about reporting Great Salt Lake pelicans and the live PELICam here.