National Science Week call to keep your eyes peeled for banded pelicans

NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment scientists are calling on sharp-eyed members of the public to help spot pelicans with bright orange leg bands during National Science Week, as part of the ‘Peli Bands’ study to understand more about the movements and breeding behaviour of this iconic Australian waterbird.

Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) banding, Lake Brewster

Department Senior Scientist Dr. Jennifer Spencer said the purpose of the study at Lake Brewster, in collaboration with UNSW, was to understand where baby pelicans, known as ‘pinkies’, go once they are old enough to fly away from the lake and whether they return to breed in this wetland in future years.

“With a wingspan of around 2.5 metres, the Australian pelican is highly mobile. Where the birds go, and importantly, where they choose to breed, can help determine how water for the environment is used to support waterbirds in the Murray-Darling Basin,” said Dr Spencer.

“With that knowledge, we can ensure there is the right amount of water in the right wetland for the right period of time to support breeding events, ensure sufficient foraging habitat and provide protection from land-based predators.

“In total, 142 pelicans born at Lake Brewster have been fitted with an orange leg band since 2017.

“We’re asking members of the public to give us a hand and keep an eye out for pelicans bearing these distinctive bands.

“This is an example of citizen science in action! The more people on the lookout for these majestic birds, the more data we can gather on their movements and the threats they face, and the better we’ll be able to manage our wetlands to help protect pelican populations in the long term.

“We have had four reports of banded birds to date, including a bird sighted 650kms away in St George, Queensland, and another bird that had travelled around 570kms and had been spotted by members of the public in Mehi River near Moree.

“Sadly, this pelican had suffered a terrible injury to its wing after becoming entangled in fishing line and couldn’t be saved. This is an important reminder of some of the threats that pelicans face.

“Members of the public can help to prevent injuries to pelicans and other wildlife by taking simple measures such as disposing of equipment like fishing hooks and line properly,” said Dr Spencer.

The Department has been working with river system operator, Water NSW, to manage Lake Brewster storage releases for their downstream customers while also utilising environmental water to maintain water levels following flood events to ensure the success of pelican breeding events.

It’s easy to get involved in the ‘Peli Bands’ citizen science project. If you see a pelican with an orange leg band, please get in contact by emailing peli.bands@environment.nsw.gov.au.

For more information, visit the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment website or the SEED Citizen Science Hub.