Pelicans test the Tagish waters

When Ron Tait first saw them floating on Marsh Lake, he thought they were swans. “More swans? What are they doing here?” he said.

When Ron Tait first saw them floating on Marsh Lake, he thought they were swans.

“More swans? What are they doing here?” he said.

Tait putted closer in his boat.

They must be cranes, he decided.

Again, he was wrong.

“I got my boat a bit closer and saw they were pelicans,” he said.

Tait started telling others about the big-billed birds.

“But most people didn’t believe me,” he said.

“So, I just let it go.”

Several days later, Tait saw the four pelicans again.

They were feeding at Tagish Narrows.

Soon after, Environment biologist Cameron Eckert’s phone started ringing.

Turns out the pelicans had flapped over to Nares Lake for the day to do some fishing.

Eckert drove to Carcross.

“They’re familiar birds, but they look completely out of context when you see them swimming in the Yukon,” said Eckert.

“You just sort of rub your eyes.”

It’s the first time pelicans have been spotted in the territory.

The birds probably got on the wrong migration track and are lost, he said.

“But you never know.”

There are an increasing number of rare and unusual birds showing up here.

“This tells us something’s up,” said Eckert.

“And we know climate change is going on in a big way in the Yukon, changing eco-systems.”

There are black terns breeding in the southeast Yukon, a pair of meadowlarks mated in Partridge Creek and double-breasted cormorants have been seen on Lake Laberge for the past 15 years, said Eckert.

“So, pelicans could set up shop here,” he said.

“That’s how satellite populations get started.”

Because of its proximity to coastal migratory routes, Tagish sees a number of rare birds, added Eckert.

 The American white pelicans are approximately 1,000 kilometres northwest of their regular breeding grounds, in central BC, northern Alberta and southern Northwest Territories.

They’re usually flatland birds, said Eckert.

“But they could breed in any of our lakes.”

On Nares, the pelicans spent the night on a sandbar, safe from wolves, coyotes and other predators.

And they’re too large to be threatened by eagles.

With a 2.75-metre wingspan, pelicans are incredible fliers, said Eckert.

Pelicans look awkward on the water and particularly galumphing on land.

And with their guttural squawks, they aren’t the most elegant birds.

“When they’re perched, they look squat and bulky,” but when they soar, with those enormous black and white wings, they are stunning to watch, he said.

The four local pelicans are mature adults, and have been spending most of their time fishing at Tagish Narrows.

So far, there’s been no sign of nesting activities.

“They usually nest in a safe place, like an island,” said Eckert.

And they’re used to warmer water.

Pelicans tend to nest en masse, in colonies of over 100.

“They’re social birds,” he said, noting that they also fish co-operatively.

“It’s thought they may actually herd fish, following schools.”

Using their bulky beaks as nets, the pelicans swim along underwater scooping whole fish into their leathery pouches.

Tagish Narrows is prime fishing, said Eckert.

“So, even if the pelicans don’t find proper nesting conditions, they will likely spend the summer there loafing and feeding.”

If they were going to continue migrating, they would have left by now,” he added.

Pelicans have also shown up in Alaska.

“But there’s only a couple records of this,” said Eckert.

The bulky birds spend winters in the Gulf of Texas and usually migrate to the same spots year after year.

“They live about 20 years,” said Eckert, who isn’t ruling out the possibility that the pelicans might return next season.

Eckert urges curious pelican watchers to keep an eye out for signs of breeding.

And if they start nesting, it’s important to give them a wide berth, he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted


Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Whitehorse musher Hans Gatt crosses the 2021 Yukon Journey finish line in first place at approximately 10:35 a.m. on Feb. 26. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Hans Gatt wins inaugural 2021 Yukon Journey

The Yukon Journey, a 255-mile race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse, kicked off on Feb. 24

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

Most Read