Skip to main content

Study: North Dakota pelican deaths result of earlier return migration

  • Author:
  • Updated:

A new study ties the deaths of thousands of pelican chicks at a North Dakota wildlife refuge to the birds' earlier return migration in the spring.

The Fargo Forum reports researchers found white pelicans are returning to the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge 16 days earlier than they did in the 1960's. Scientists believe warmer weather at their wintering grounds on the Gulf of Mexico is triggering the earlier migration, the Forum says.

In four of the five years studied by a United States Geological Survey research center near Jamestown, N.D., thousands of pelican chicks returning to the refuge perished in cold, wet weather. The lead researcher tells the Forum adult birds can manage the earlier migration but the chicks have not developed a layer of protective feathers.

The Chase Lake refuge, which is near Medina, is home to about 30,000 white pelicans, the Fish & Wildlife Service says. That's quite a turnaround from the 50 pelicans that lived there when President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a refuge in 1908.

The adult population remains strong and is occasionally the subject of media profiles. Last summer Fox News visited Chase Lake for a feature on the pelicans. At 6 feet long with a 10-foot wingspan, they are among the largest birds in North America.

The previous summer an Associated Press story reported the number of pelicans was near a record high.

But the loss of chicks has refuge manager Neil Shook concerned about the longer-term future of the colony – particularly since not much can be done about it in the near term. “We can’t do anything about the birds arriving 16 days earlier,” Shook tells the Forum. “And we can’t do anything about the weather.”

Next Up

Screen Shot 2021-10-04 at 3.03.13 PM

Revival to close its original Minneapolis restaurant

Don't worry – it's bringing the chicken to its nearby BBQ joint.


Fatal crash under investigation on Hwy 62 in Mendota Heights

The Minnesota State Patrol is investigating the crash near Dodd Road.

Pixabay bike wheel

Driver strikes 5 bicyclists near Mapleton

The Sheriff's Office has indicated that those injured were children.

Screen Shot 2020-04-30 at 3.13.52 PM

The former Bachelor Farmer space is sold in Minneapolis

A new restaurant is expected to open next year.

flooding on Interstate 90

Supercharged atmosphere causing more mega-rain events

There could be a mega-rain event Saturday-Sunday in Minnesota, Wisconsin and/or Iowa.


Massive Burnsville landfill expansion nears final approvals

The City of Burnsville and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency are accepting public feedback on the proposal.

Screen Shot 2022-08-05 at 2.35.39 PM

Kyle Rittenhouse attorney to defend accused Apple River killer Nicolae Miu

The attorney who helped Kyle Rittenhouse be acquitted of all charges is defending the alleged Apple River mass stabber.

Screen Shot 2022-08-05 at 7.55.41 AM

Minneapolis police trying to ID pair in connection to fatal shooting

Police say the two people pictured are connected to the fatal shooting of Ivan Redday last month.


17-year-old girl killed in southern Minnesota crash

The crash happened early Thursday morning near Lake Crystal.

Tim Gannon

Ex-Brooklyn Center police chief sues city over resignation

Tim Gannon alleges he was forced to resign following the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright.