Our Pelicans need you

The second annual Gippsland Lakes Great Pelican Count will be held at 11.30am to 12noon on Sunday, 7 April and locations all around the Gippsland Lakes.

According to Deb Sullivan, Birdlife Australia Project Officer in East Gippsland nearly 150 people participated in Victoria’s first Great Pelican Count in April 2018.

“We’re hoping our 2019 count is bigger and better than the last one,” said Ms Sullivan.

“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 Ms Sullivan.

Although the pelican is easily identifiable and iconic, some of their behaviour remain a mystery. Pelicans are highly mobile and are thought to respond to rainfall levels inland by moving to and from the coast.

“Last year’s count of 541 pelicans suggest that many of the young pelicans and nomadic pelicans weren’t at the Gippsland Lakes,” said Ms Sullivan. “But we don’t know how many leave or where those pelicans go.

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

But why is this important? Ms Sullivan explains that the data gathered is used by people and organisations such as BirdLife Australia working in the environment space to better understand environmental values.

“This is really valuable information,” continues Ms Sullivan. “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 trying to protect or 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. Their young form creches that stay together for around two months learning to fly, feed and fend for themselves.

Continued and consistent monitoring is vital to help inform the future management of the Gippsland Lakes and its surrounding wetlands. Information gathered about species, like the pelican, helps us understand what management actions are working and what are the needs of the species into the future.

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

“We would expect to see more pelicans around the Lakes in dry times elsewhere as they look for food,.but with the East Gippsland area also under drought strain the numbers could well be lower than previous records. Data from the Great Pelican Count gives information about current numbers and their locations.”

“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 at least 80 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”.

“We need to find as many as possible so we’re asking people to give us a call or send an email to let us know.”

To register, visit www.loveourlakes.net.au and follow the links from the homepage, registrations will close on 25 March 2019.

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

This project is funded by the Victorian State Government for the health of the Gippsland Lakes.