‘It is very exciting’: Pelicans return to Hat Island on the Great Salt Lake

May 10, 2024, 6:09 PM | Updated: 8:07 pm

FARMINGTON BAY — The first time you see the Great Salt Lake, you never forget it.

“Absolutely. I am very impressed,” said Frank Tomasino while looking out at the water.

Tomasino and his wife live in Chicago and have been to Utah before, but Friday is the first time they have been to the Great Salt Lake.

“We were actually only going to spend a couple of minutes here and we have been here, what, an hour at least,” said Tomasino.

There is certainly a lot to see at the State Park, the views, boats, displays, birds, and there was even a guy swimming in the cold water.

However, there is something going on a little further north on the lake nobody has seen since the 1940’s.

“We did not expect to see them,” John Luft said with a laugh.

Luft is the Great Salt Lake ecosystem program manager for Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources.

He and a team of biologists were flying over the lake recently doing a survey on shore birds when he noticed something else.

“I looked over and I said I think that is a pelican nesting on Hat Island and my biologist in the back says no way,” Luft said.

Sure enough, when biologists went to Hat Island last month, there were at least a thousand pelicans nesting on the island.

Pelicans have not been observed on Hat Island since 1943.

“It is very exciting. It speaks to the resiliency of the pelican population to go someplace that they have not been in over 80 years,” said Tuft.

Biologists figure pelicans went to Hat Island this year because where they usually go, Gunnison Island nearly twenty miles away, is no longer technically an island because of lower water levels.

“We assume coyotes accessed the island because that is the main predator out in that area,” said Tuft.

Pelicans left Gunnison Island last year, but they are back there now.

Initial estimates are 800 pelicans on Gunnison Island and 1,300 on Hat Island, which is the real surprise.

“I think a couple of them tried it out and a bunch of them said, hey, there’s some of our friends, we’re going to try it, too,” Luft said.

Both islands are closed to the public to allow the pelicans to nest and rest during their migration.

It is also illegal to fly within a mile of the island.

“Overall, pelican populations are doing well, and even the total abandonment of the Gunnison Island colony last year had little impact on the continental pelican population,” said Luft. “Seeing birds nesting at both islands again is a good sign.”

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‘It is very exciting’: Pelicans return to Hat Island on the Great Salt Lake