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Pelicans are coming back to Minnesota already – but don't get too close

Pelicans are bringing their giant beaks and 9-foot wingspans back to Minnesota.

Don't get too close to big white pelicans.

Beyond concerns for any small pets you might have that the pelicans decide might be lunch, you could actually scare the birds so much they abandon their eggs and nest.

American white pelicans are currently migrating back up to Minnesota after spending winter along the Gulf Coast, the DNR says. They're about two weeks earlier than usual, with lakes and rivers already starting to thaw.

The Audobon Society says white pelicans are common in the western half of Minnesota during migration, but rarer in the eastern regions of the state.

You'll see their 9-foot wingspans around waters, particularly shallow lakes with islands, the DNR says, or one of prairie pothole lakes. That's because there's usually plenty of food (rough fish and crustaceans) in those waters. If you find some hungry pelicans, you'll notice they hunt as a team, circling the water to herd fish into a shallow area, then dipping their big Pelicans are coming back to Minnesota already – but don't get too closePelicans are coming back to Minnesota already – but don't get too close' beak pouches in and scooping them up.

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But stay far back, the DNR warns.

They're very sensitive to humans, and easily get scared off their nests – which could lead to a pelican just abandoning the nest and eggs altogether.

"A good rule of thumb is if the pelicans are reacting to your presence, you’re too close," DNR nongame wildlife specialist Lisa Gelvin-Innvaer said in a news release.

Pelicans are doing way better

Pelican numbers suffered significantly because of human disturbance and habitat loss through much of the 20th century, the Audobon Society explains.

And in fact they used to be rare in Minnesota, according to the DNR, and there were no reports of nesting pairs in the state from 1878 to 1968.

But their numbers have strengthened in the decades since. There are now an estimated 22,000 nesting pairs that stop at seven lakes across Minnesota, the DNR says.

The Audobon Society says numbers since 1970 have grown substantially – but there's concern over how climate change could affect the bird's range.

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