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Pelicans, ibis pay a visit to Navajo State Park

Navajo Lake State Park is providing a refuge for two very special visitors.

On April 21, a pair of large white water birds was spotted on the lake. With the help of binoculars, it was soon established that they were American white pelicans.

Although it is not unheard of for the white pelican to be seen in southwest Colorado, they are considered an uncommon migrant in this area. Park staff and observant visitors have seen one or two of these majestic birds in previous years, but the 2010 pelicans, with their 9-foot wing spans, quickly became park favorites.

No one is sure when the pelicans will leave, but they will presumably have a destination of the Yellowstone National Park area. According to “Birds of the Rocky Mountains,” by Chris C. Fisher, Yellowstone is the summer breeding habitat for white pelicans in the Central Flyway. While observing and researching pelican behavior, park personnel were amused to find out that a group of pelicans is commonly known as a pouch, but can also be called a brief.

Early Europeans believed that the female pelican would wound her breast with her long, curved bill, drawing blood to feed her young. There are some birds during the nesting season that grow red feathers upon their breast, which may be where the legend originated. Since Mother’s Day was last weekend, the symbolism of the self-sacrificing pelican seems appropriate.

In addition to the pelicans, several white-faced ibis arrived at the Sambrito Wetlands on May 4. During a bird walk with Becky Gillette from Audubon Colorado, members of the San Juan Outdoor Club were treated to a brief glimpse of this shy, iridescently-colored bird. The collective noun for a group of ibis is “crowd,” even if there are only two or three.

The white-faced ibis is being studied as a possible candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act. White-faced ibis were affected by contamination from the pesticide DDT in the 1970s before it was banned, resulting in the thinning of egg shells and reduction in reproductive success. Threats to the white-faced ibis include alterations to habitat, disturbance during nesting, pesticide contamination, a limited number of breeding locations, and fluctuating water levels within their habitat.

Many species of birds, migratory and non-migratory, can be seen within the boundaries of Navajo State Park. If you are interested in scheduling a bird hike or attending a program on The Birds of Navajo State Park, let the staff know at the Visitor Center 883-2208.

All interpretive programs and hikes are free with a state parks pass. A park day pass is $6 per vehicle; an annual pass is $60 for the first vehicle and $25 for a second family vehicle; or if you are a Colorado resident and 64 or older, an annual pass is $30 for the first vehicle and $15 for the second family vehicle.