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Pelicans at Strawberry Reservoir: what do they eat?

Quinney College of Natural Resources explains study results.

Shauna Leavitt is a guest contributor to the DWR blog. She writes for the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University and has written for many regional and national wildlife magazines including, The Mule Deer Foundation, The Wildlife Professional and People, Land & Water.

Anglers spend 1.5 million hours a year on Strawberry Reservoir, one of Utah’s most popular fishing spots. Anglers are not the only ones attracted by the fish; the reservoir has become a favorite fishing spot for American white pelicans. In the spring, flocks of up to 500 birds can be seen gathering at the reservoir’s tributaries.

A closeup of a pelican at Strawberry. Photo by Frank Howe.

A closeup of a pelican at Strawberry. Photo by Frank Howe.

The growing number of pelicans caught the attention of managers and anglers.  “They’re eating all the trout,” was the concern.  In response, we teamed up with and Utah State University and began tracking the eating habits of the birds.  On July 6, the near-final results of the multi-year project were presented by USU graduate student Kevin Chapman.

The results show pelicans eat mostly non-game fish. Their diets consisted of 85 percent Utah sucker, 6 percent Utah chub and 3 percent cutthroat trout.  The 3 percent equals about 2,000 trout per year.

Pelicans at Strawberry Reservoir eat mostly Utah suckers.

Pelicans at Strawberry Reservoir eat mostly Utah suckers.

Initially, this amount hardly seemed significant since there are an estimated >250,000 trout in the reservoir. But, a female cutthroat trout in Strawberry Reservoir may produce 2,000 eggs per year, representing a significant loss to natural reproduction.

Fortunately, the study also showed that there may be just a short time window when pelican numbers are over a certain threshold, in which managers may need to intervene.




1 Response to Pelicans at Strawberry Reservoir: what do they eat?

  1. Shauna Leavitt;

    I think we need to consider the individuals who catch the cutthroat and cut bows in the 15 to over 22 slot who do not care about the survival of the fish, but getting the hook back and the picture and then release the fish. I think the American white pelicans are enjoying free dinner because the seagull can’t choke the big ones down. I’ve seen plenty of fish float by me in my float tube and look at the bank with people who had too have release the fish hurt and bleeding. I personally think the fish limit should be changed to NO RELEASE. And make a two fish any size and kind and your done, it would most likely increase the survival of fish and people jerking the hook out and releasing the Trout. and the fish population would continue to grow the white pelicans would most likely leave for better waters to eat.
    and also has anyone had to tell their 5 to7 year old he/she can’t keep the big fish they caught. it’s a hard one to explain, and the valley ponds are great but not the same.

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