In the past decade, severe weather and West Nile virus were major causes of chick mortality at American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) colonies in the northern plains of North America. At one of these colonies, Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in North Dakota, spring arrival by pelicans has advanced approximately 16 days over a period of 44 years (1965–2008). We examined phenology patterns of pelicans and timing of inclement weather through the 44-year period, and evaluated the consequence of earlier breeding relative to weather-related chick mortality. We found severe weather patterns to be random through time, rather than concurrently shifting with the advanced arrival of pelicans. In recent years, if nest initiations had followed the phenology patterns of 1965 (i.e., nesting initiated 16 days later), fewer chicks likely would have died from weather-related causes. That is, there would be fewer chicks exposed to severe weather during a vulnerable transition period that occurs between the stage when chicks are being brooded by adults and the stage when chicks from multiple nests become part of a thermally protective crèche.
Additional publication details
Influence of climate change on productivity of American White Pelicans, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos