‘PeliTrack’ project allows biologists (and you) to track pelicans tagged in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — They're big, majestic, plentiful and sometimes a real problem.

“There have been some pelicans hitting airplanes and it’s a very costly endeavor when a pelican hits an airplane,” said John Neill, a wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Neill is part of a program to catch and tag pelicans in Utah, fitting them with solar powered GPS trackers. The results are mapped in real time on a website called PeliTrack.

“It’s an easy way to track the pelicans and their movements throughout the year,” said Neill.

You can check out the website too. The pelicans have names like Olivia, Pedro or Uma. Various levels of the map allow you to see how far and how frequently they travel.

Neill says in a single day, they can fly from Salt Lake City to Saint George.

Typically, the largest flocks are found along the eastern edge of the Great Salt Lake, putting them right in the flight path for Salt Lake International airport.
“Much of the funding for the satellite transmitters themselves has been coming from the Salt Lake International airport,” said Neill.

The birds are captured using soft leg traps. They are put into a holding bag or box to keep them calm while they are measured and fitted with the tracking equipment. Forty-eight birds are being tracked on the website so far, more should be added by the end of the summer.

Besides reducing conflict with aircraft, tracking the birds helps determine the impact pelicans are having on sensitive fish species like the Bonneville cutthroat trout.

As well, it helps determine the health of the pelican population and what can be done to protect the birds.

“Many of the pelicans that we’ve trapped here at the Great Salt Lake have gone down to Mexico to winter,” said Neil.

Others can be found on the map in Wyoming, California and Nevada.