Citizen scientists – our Pelicans need you!

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The Gippsland Lakes Great Pelican Count is back on Sunday, 11 April 2021 and you can be involved.  

According to Deb Sullivan, Birdlife Australia Project Officer in East Gippsland this year’s count is more important than ever. 

“Last year’s Great Pelican Count had to be cancelled with late notice, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions in place at the time,” explained Deb. 

Nearly 200 people participated in the last Great Pelican Count in April 2019. 

“So much important data was gathered by these participants in 2019,” explained Deb. “And getting this data in 2021 is going to be vital to understanding the patterns of behaviour of pelicans in the Gippsland Lakes.” 

The Count is a snapshot – like a census – of pelicans across the Gippsland Lakes taken at the same time on the same day. 

Anyone can be involved in the count; pelicans are distinctive and easy to spot making it an event the whole family can be involved in. All you need to do is register. 

“Annual counts help provide insights into population fluctuations from year to year and help understand the arrival and departure of nomadic populations that use the Lakes in times of high or low rainfall or both,” continued Deb. 

The Count will be held from 11.30 am to 12.00noon on Sunday, 11 April 2021 at many locations around the Gippsland Lakes. 

Although the pelican is easily identifiable and iconic, some of its behaviors remain a mystery. Pelicans are highly mobile and respond to rainfall events but that does not mean that they all move inland to breed. Research is beginning to show that coastal Pelicans generally stay coastal debunking the theory that they all move inland. 

“We began color banding pelicans in November 2018, and we’ll be asking citizen scientists to report bands they see as part of their sightings. The bands are bright red with white writing, making them easy to read. These sightings are helping us to build a picture of where the pelicans move to and how they use the Gippsland Lakes.  

“Not only have two of our banded Gippsland Lakes Pelicans been spotted in Queensland and northern NSW but we also know that a pelican banded with a silver band from Queensland has been spotted around the Gippsland Lakes which is very exciting and might be seen at the count.” 

Deb explains that the data gathered is used by people and organizations such as BirdLife Australia to improve management actions and increase knowledge of the species. 

“This is really valuable information,” continues Deb. “It’s used by natural resource management professionals to understand why the pelicans prefer a certain type of wetland or habitat. They can then set about protecting and trying to recreate those habitats at other sights meaning that the pelicans have more safe places available to them.” 

The Gippsland Lakes is home to one of only two permanent pelican rookeries in Victoria. Pelicans are colonial nesters, meaning they nest en-masse. The young form creches that stay together for around three to four months learning to fly, feed and fend for themselves. 

“The Gippsland Lakes provide a refuge for nomadic pelicans during time of regional and national drought,” continued Deb. 

“We would expect to see more pelicans around the Lakes in dry times as they look for food. Data from the Great Pelican Count gives information about current numbers and their locations. This contributes to the larger BirdLife Australia Gippsland Lakes Pelican Project. 

“Register for the count, grab your friends and family and get out and enjoy the Gippsland Lakes. Your observations as citizen scientists can really make a difference. 

“This count will, over time, help us to quantify the changes in pelican numbers across the Gippsland Lakes and enable volunteers of all ages to participate in counting one of Australia’s most recognisable birds.” 

There will be 92 sites across the Gippsland Lakes with counters allocated to them. Some sites will have lots of birds, others may have none, but this also provides useful information. 

“We’re also keen to get some local knowledge of roost sites, or places where pelicans ‘hang out” continued Deb. 

“We’re asking people to give us a call or send an email to let us know.” 

Registrations are now open at and will close on 31 March 2021.

BirdLife Australia is dedicated to achieving outstanding conservation results for native Australian birds and their habitats. 

This project is supported by the Victorian State Government, East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority.  

This is a COVID-safe event and will be run in line with all restrictions in place at the time. Participants are asked to look after their own safety and that of others when they participate.  


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