Pelican Damage Prevention and Control Methods

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Overview of Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Habitat Modification

  • Eliminate water from loafing sites
  • Eliminate open wetland sites


  • Mesh wire


  • Spotlights
  • Pyrotechnics


None registered


None registered.


  • Shotgun (12 gauge or larger)
  • Centerfire rifle (.22-cal or larger)


  • Foothold traps
  • Rocket nets

Other Control Methods

  • Nest destruction
  • Egg oiling or addling

Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Habitat Modification

Removal or elimination of water from loafing sites (e.g., flooded fields) can cause pelicans to abandon a site. Other modifications may include eliminating open wetland sites by planting perennial woody vegetation.


Exclusion may prevent pelican predation and disease transfer. Selection of a barrier system depends on the size of facility and whether the barrier will interfere with other operations. Other considerations include possible damage from severe weather and the barrier’s effect on site aesthetics in visually sensitive areas. Care must be taken to construct any physical barrier so that it does not become a lethal object to non-target birds, especially threatened and endangered species. The barrier material should be visible to birds to minimize accidental entrapment and/or injury. Avoid using loosely hung, small mesh netting such as mist netting, as it will cause excessive bird loss and draw public and regulatory attention.

Although often cost prohibitive, near total exclusion can eliminate up to 90% of pelican access to individual ponds. One aquaculturist in south Mississippi used a combination of overhead grid wires, perimeter electric fencing, and harassment to exclude about 90% of brown pelicans from landing or entering his fish ponds. The producer reported a cost of “nearly $3 million” to set up the exclusion devices at five 6-acre ponds.

In general, enclosing ponds and raceways to exclude all fish-eating birds requires 1- to 2-inch mesh netting secured to frames or supported by overhead wires. In addition, gates and other openings must be covered. In areas with harsh winter conditions, nets must have an adequate framework or support cables to prevent ice or snow accumulation from ripping the netting.

Some hatchery operators use mesh panels placed on the raceway walls above the water to effectively exclude birds. Secure small mesh wire or net less than 1 inch to wood or pipe frames to prevent feeding through the panel. Design panels to accommodate demand or automatic feeders and feed blowers that feed through mesh-covered raceways. Since panels may interfere with feeding, cleaning, or harvesting operations, they may be more appropriate for seasonal or temporary use.

All exclusion structures must be strong enough to prevent the weight of large birds and their activities from making the net sag to within feeding distance of the water. Construct all exclusion structures to allow use of fish maintenance equipment and, if necessary, to withstand wind and the accumulation of snow and ice. Nonrigid exclusion structures such as suspended netting may need lines, pulleys, and counterweights to facilitate lifting and lowering during adverse conditions or maintenance.

Although complete exclusion may not be practical, various barrier techniques may limit pelican access to ponds or to the fish in these ponds. Nets suspended over catfish farm levees can prevent pelican depredation. However, use of these nets is impractical as most catfish farm levees are not wide enough to accommodate support structures for the net and still allow vehicle access. Plastic and wire grids over catfish ponds can deter pelican flocks from landing and taking off, but do not necessarily exclude individual birds. Some success with simple parallel overhead wires spaced on 26-foot centers has been reported, but in other studies, birds simply landed on the levees and walked under the wires into the ponds.

Frightening Devices

Frightening devices and techniques modify behavior and discourage birds from feeding, roosting, or gathering at a location. American white pelicans are typically diurnal foragers, but often forage at night, especially in areas where daytime harassment is effective. During daylight hours, pelicans forage mainly during early morning and late afternoon and loaf during mid-day. However, pelicans quickly adapt to standardized harassment schedules. Pelicans have been observed leaving a loafing site to forage at catfish farms less than 15 minutes after the harassment person left the facility for lunch and returning to their loafing site about 10 minutes before the harassment person returned. Alternating harassment methods typically is most effective, especially harassing the birds at their loafing sites near catfish farms cause the birds to abandon the site and often reduce or eliminate predation at nearby facilities.

  • In south Louisiana, bright spotlights have been successful in dispersing nocturnal foraging pelicans from catfish ponds.
  • Pyrotechnics can be effective in dispersing pelicans from foraging and loafing sites if other techniques are available as needed. Possession and use of pyrotechnics may require a permit from the local, county, and/or state fire marshal. Harassment by personnel on foot, ATVs, boats, or other vehicles combined with pyrotechnics can be effective. Lethal reinforcement is often necessary when pelicans become habituated to other techniques such as pyrotechnics and propane canons. As pelicans begin to ignore harassment techniques, shooting one or two pelicans often will cause the entire flock to leave the area.


None registered.


None registered.


As with all firearms, make sure it is safe to discharge a firearm in a particular area. Because American white pelicans are large birds, accuracy is essential to ensure immediate death. Dispatch wounded birds quickly. Use a shotgun, 12-gauge or larger, with T-shot or larger. Use a centerfire rifle of .22-cal or larger (e.g. .223, .22-250) for shooting individual birds. Shot birds should be disposed of as soon as possible in accordance with permit instructions. Leaving bird carcasses on a facility can attract other predators, can be illegal, and generally is viewed as poor management by the public.


Foothold Traps

Modified padded foothold traps, such as the Victor No. 3 Softcatch (use of trade names does not imply endorsement), are effective in capturing pelicans and other wading birds (Figure 10). Replace the factory springs with the springs of the weaker Victor No. 1.5 Softcatch to lessen the initial impact of the closing jaws on the pelican’s leg. In addition, replace the factory chain with an 8-inch length of 0.15-inch aircraft cable and a 12-inch elastic shock-cord to minimize injury to captured birds. Attach additional box and stake swivels to increase the flexibility of the swiveling system (see Figure 10).

Set these modified foothold traps in areas of high bird densities, typically flooded fields, pond levees, or loafing sites near colonies. Traps set in the water should be completely submerged but in water shallow (3 to 6 inches) enough that birds could step into them. Slowly approach potential capture sites, flush the birds, and set traps 10 to 13 feet apart along transects. Drive trap stakes flush with the substrate, and conceal the elastic shock cords and swivels by pushing them into the mud or covering them with sediment. On land, set traps within 3 feet of the water’s edge. Traps on levees can be set using a basic dirt-hole set similar to that used for coyotes. Once set, traps should be monitored constantly. Captured animals should be removed from traps immediately. When properly used, these modified traps are safe and humane for capturing pelicans.

Each modified trap currently costs approximately $30.

Rocket nets

A portable rocket-net system can be modified by building a box out of 0.12-inch aircraft aluminum (Figure 11). The box, net, and rockets can be set in water 0.8 to 1.6 inches deep with the box open­ing angled out of the water. This system can be used on an exposed mud flat, pond levee, or other loafing site. Fold the net into the box prior to placing it at the capture site. Large nets (60 x 40 feet or 50 x 30 feet) with 2 to 4 rockets can be used depending on the box design. The net, stakes, and rockets can be stored in the box and the entire device easily transported by two people or by an ATV. The box, rockets, charges, and net currently cost approximately $2,000.

As with other fish-eating birds, American white pelicans are attracted to bodies of water containing sick or dying prey. However, pelicans wintering in the southeast US are wary of humans; logistically, developing and maintaining a bait site to attract birds has proven very difficult.

The use of foothold traps and/or rocket-nets requires permits from the Migratory Bird Office, USFWS, and state wildlife agencies. The use and storage of rocket net charges may be controlled by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, US Department of Transportation, and US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.


Pelicans are large birds; be careful when approaching live birds. Pelicans have sharp edges along their upper bill. One of the pelican’s defense mechanisms is to snap or bite. The edges of the bill can cause knife-like cuts. Always first grab a live pelican by its bill (both upper and lower) using one hand and do not allow the bill to move in your hand. Remember that the bird cannot go anywhere without its bill and head.


Only two known attempts have been made to relocate pelicans from a damage site. Both attempts had good short-term success but long-term usefulness is not known. Pelicans captured and relocated 12 miles from one aquaculture facility did not return to the facility for at least 3 weeks.


Not known.


Euthanasia recommendations are intended to serve as guidelines, and they require the use of professional judgment for specific situations. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of those carrying out euthanasia to assure that it is done in the most humane manner possible. Shooting, decapitation, exsanguination, chemicals (carbon dioxide, lethal injections), and blunt force trauma (stunning) to the base of the skull, followed by cervical dislocation are approved methods of euthanasia for large birds, such as pelicans.


Check your local, state, and federal regulations regarding carcass disposal.

Other Control Methods

Nest destruction

Pelicans are protected by the MBTA. Removal of nests and any human activity in nesting colonies during the breeding season are regulated by the USFWS and state/provincial agencies.

Egg Oiling or Addling

Any nest removal, egg oiling, or addling activities in nesting colonies is regulated by the USFWS and state/provincial agencies.