Injured pelican survived harsh Alberta winter thanks to invasive fish species, says naturalist
Sightings of the large white bird were reported all winter via online birding forums
After a CBC Homestretch listener brought attention to an lone, injured American white pelican in Southern Alberta that was unable to fly south this past winter, naturalist Brian Keating ventured out to find the bird and learn more about it.
And last Tuesday, alongside his wife, Keating located the pelican at Frank Lake, east of High River.
But by then, the pelican's lonely days were over.
It had linked up with others of its kind that had returned from the Salton Sea in southern California and other coastal waterways, bays and estuaries, said Keating.
"There he was with with a new buddy ... he was no longer alone," he said Monday on The Homestretch.
The lone pelican had been spotted all winter long, according to online birding database eBird.
Keating says it's unusual behaviour for the species, which usually escapes Alberta's harsh winters by flying south.
Keating says that, after talking with fellow Alberta naturalists Chris Fisher and Greg Wagner, he guesses the bird was injured by a natural predator (like a coyote or eagle), a hunter's buckshot or by hitting a power line.
What he says is amazing is that the bird managed to find food, even during the February cold snap.
He says this can be explained by an in-flow to Frank Lake from the Town of High River's treated waste water. The water there flows all year and doesn't freeze, he says — letting the pelican access a food source.
"A population of introduced fish called Prussian carp, which are in huge numbers in the lake, and they always are swarming around that in-flow pipe," said Keating.
Prussian carp is a relative of goldfish that has come to be in Alberta because of illegal release, according to the Alberta government website.
Keating says Wagner was able to confirm that the pelican "could sit on a rock beside the in-flow ... and when it got hungry, it would just lean over and scoop."
The bird was seen floating on the open water, even during the coldest part of winter, "lazily dipping his bill into the pond … and picking up the carp."
As for the pelican's injury, Keating says the bird has been spotted recently taking short flights around the pond.
For more fascinating stories about Alberta's wildlife from naturalist Brian Keating, visit his website and check out these stories:
With files from The Homestretch.