Pelicans aplenty in the Lachlan Valley this World Wildlife Day

More than 8000 pelicans are making the most of ideal breeding conditions at Lake Brewster, over 100km north of Griffith in southern New South Wales, in a spectacular show of nature this World Wildlife Day (3 March).

Pelicans in flight at Lake Brewster

A recent survey by the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) shows that thousands of birds are either courting or have already paired up and are nesting in the first pelican breeding event in the area for four years.

This colony emerged in early summer and now extends across eight exposed banks in the lake and surrounding outflow wetland.

OEH Director Graeme Enders said that the pelicans are displaying classic ‘courting behaviour’ such as bill clapping, with some even tossing small sticks and fish into the air and catching them as part of their mating strategy.

“The most obvious signal that the mating season has begun is a dramatic change in the colour of the bill and pouch of the birds, with bright pink, yellow and cobalt blue hues on display while they are breeding,” he said.

The pelicans have benefited from the good winter and spring rainfall throughout much of central and western NSW, and from environmental water that has kept the area resilient and able to support this number of birds.”

Bird breeding is a natural process triggered by the floods, with the river and wetlands surrounding Lake Brewster being ‘primed’ by the delivery of environmental water in previous years under the Lachlan Water Sharing Plan.

While many people associate pelicans with coastal areas, they are in fact far more widespread, and breed in large colonies in inland areas.

Fin Martin, Chair of the Lachlan Environmental Water Advisory Group said it was great to see the pelicans at Lake Brewster.

“There are only two known locations where pelicans breed in the Lachlan Valley—Lake Cowal and Lake Brewster—and this year we are overwhelmed by the sheer number that have chosen to nest here at Brewster,” said Mr Martin.

“Our priority as the water managers for this important breeding event is to keep the lake supplied to a level where the pelican nesting banks remain as islands to ensure the birds can complete their natural breeding cycles - without disturbance from predatory animals.”

WaterNSW spokesperson Tony Webber said that as the storage operator, WaterNSW will ensure that the needs of consumers are met without harming the birds.

“We will make sure we maintain the water levels where the pelicans are nesting, and given the high fish numbers and diversity following the recent flood, we expect that there will be a high success rate in fledging of the young birds,” he said.

OEH will continue to work with the Advisory Group, WaterNSW, and landholders to closely manage water levels at Lake Brewster and at other important sites throughout the Lachlan system.

Please note that Lake Brewster is not accessible to the public.

To read more about bird species and environmental water management in the Lachlan Valley, go to environment.nsw.gov.au/environmentalwater/lachlan-profile

Photos for media: Pelicans aplenty at Lake Brewster this World Wildlife Day 

Pelican particulars

  • Australian Pelicans are one of the largest birds, with the largest bill of all birds.
  • Pelicans hunt cooperatively and will splash the surface of the water with their wings to force the fish toward the shallow water where they can scoop up and filter fish more easily using their bills and the expandable pouch underneath. Females lay 1 to 3 eggs. Incubation period lasts between 28 and 36 days. Young pelicans eat by scooping the food from the bills of their parents. Pelicans can live as long as 30 years in the wild.
  • During the courtship period, the bill and pouch of pelicans change colour dramatically. The pouch becomes bright salmon pink, the skin of the pouch in the throat region turns chrome yellow, parts of the top and base of the bill change to cobalt blue, and a black diagonal strip appears from the base to the tip. This colour change is of short duration, the intensity usually subsiding by the time incubation of eggs starts.