American White Pelicans travel up the Mississippi Flyway to Minnesota from wintering grounds in the Gulf of Mexico each spring. This year, two years after the BP oil spill in the gulf, researchers for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources discovered pollutants from the spill in the eggs of pelicans nesting in western Minnesota. This included evidence of petroleum compounds and the chemical dispersant used to clean up the oil.
About one-third of the world’s breeding population of White Pelicans is found in Minnesota, and Audubon Minnesota has identified the striking birds as a “Stewardship Species” and made them the focus of special conservation efforts. In May 2012, a team from Audubon Minnesota, North Dakota State University, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame program fitted five adult pelicans with satellite-linked GPS tracking units. These units transmit hourly readings on the birds’ locations, providing new insights into where they are foraging in the summer, their migration strategies, and how they use the gulf during the winter. This will help us learn more about the threats they encounter along the way, including risks posed by oil and other pollutants in the gulf and elsewhere.