Discovering more about local pelicans

It wouldn’t be a visit to the Gippsland Lakes without sighting an iconic Australian pelican. These easily recognisable birds pop up at various locations around the Lakes and locals would be forgiven for taking them for granted. However, some of their habits and movements remain a mystery.

Breeding season varies but can occur any time after rainfall. During breeding season, male pelicans feature a deep pink colour to their beak with attractive purple lines visible at times. They are actively competing for female attention as breeding season approaches.

For a bird species that is often easily spotted on a visit to the region, not a great deal is known about its breeding and behavioural pattern in the Gippsland Lakes.

The inaugural Great Pelican Count was conducted by BirdLife Australia on April 8, 2018 and attracted the participation of 150 avid pelican counters at 81 registered sites across the Gippsland Lakes. Counters recorded a combined total 541 birds on the day.

Deb Sullivan, Birdlife Australia Project Officer in the East Gippsland region, said the count is a great family friendly event that gives participants the chance to enjoy the Lakes while providing valuable information on pelicans across the region. The count provides a snap shot of pelicans residing in the area at the same time and same day once a year.

“We have nomadic and resident pelicans in the Gippsland Lakes, but at this stage we don’t know a great deal about how long they stay, where they come from and where they head once they leave the Lakes,” she said.

The Great Pelican Count will be held once again on April 7, 2019. Deb said this is an ideal time of year to have the count as numbers at this time of year generally reflect the resident population. Nomadic birds have often departed the area as do many young birds after they have fledged. Population numbers are monitored throughout the year to determine population fluctuations.

Birdlife Australia is about to embark on a new project, that will assist with providing more information on the pelicans that call the Gippsland Lakes home.

“An exciting colour banding project is about to begin, which will go a long way towards helping gather more data on pelicans and their movements around the Lakes and beyond,” she said.

“Pelicans banded in the Gippsland Lakes area will feature a red band with white writing on their leg and we will be calling on the public to report sightings of these birds both in the Lakes and outside the region. This will help us learn more about which birds are resident, who leaves and where do they go?”

Young birds will be banded from the Gippsland Lakes rookery before they fledge. Banding is a quick process, undertaken by skilled people and birds are not removed from their habitat to complete the banding.

“We will attempt to band some of our resident adult birds as well. There are plenty of cheeky characters who spend their time around jetties in the region, so we won’t have too much trouble banding them,” Deb said.

“We expect to start the project later in the year once nesting has commenced and the young birds are at the right age to band in the rookeries.

“Once banding commences we invite the public to notify us if they sight pelicans wearing a coloured band. This can be done via the Birdlife Australia website or by visiting the Australian Bird Banding Scheme site.”

In the meantime people can keep up with info on local birdlife and stay updated with news on the 2019 Great Pelican Count at

“I am also really excited that the iconic movie Storm Boy will be re-released in early 2019, this should hopefully spark some interest in our local pelicans once again,” said Deb.

Photo caption: Andrew Silcocks and Deb Sullivan from Birdlife Australia; Gary Matthews of San Remo Fishermans Co Op Pelican program and Associate Professor Greg Johnson of South Australia Museum and Adelaide University gathered together recently to discuss all things pelican . The group’s inaugural get together was hosted by the San Remo Fishermans Co Op.