Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Nearly 3,000 cormorants culled from Leech Lake

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

Walker, Minn. — Operations to cull cormorants from Leech Lake
mostly have wrapped up for the summer, and the total take is
similar to last year.

As of June 20, sharpshooters using shotguns and suppressed
.22-caliber rifles had killed 2,864 adult cormorants, and reduced
the colony to about 500 nesting pairs.

Officials hoped to cull about 4,000 cormorants this spring, but
didn’t have the opportunity, said Lee Pfannmuller, DNR director of
the Eco Services Division.

“The number of birds that came back was fewer (than were there
last year),” she said. “It was pretty clear the total number was
less than what there was at the beginning of last year.”

Additionally, the adult birds that were on Little Pelican Island
presumably were there last year, too, and were far more wary of the
activity, she said.

Still, there are at least 2,000 cormorants on Leech, so the plan
is to kill 20 each week as part of a study to determine what the
cormorants are eating, and cull more birds during opportune times,
said Bill Paul of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife
Services.

“We may get to that 4,000 figure by the end of the fall,” he
said.

One-year-old cormorants, which so far haven’t been present in
high numbers at Leech, could show up later this summer. If that
happens, they’ll be targeted, said Harlan Fierstine, DNR area
fisheries manager in Walker.

The culling took place on Little Pelican Island, but some of the
cormorants nested this year on a nearby island, Fierstine said.

The DNR also is working to obtain more information about the
movement of cormorants to other lakes. The DNR speculates that the
activity at Leech Lake has pushed birds elsewhere, but Pfannmuller
said she hadn’t heard much about them yet this summer.

But last August, there were more non-breeding cormorants on
other lakes than there had been in the past, she said.

There was concern about the birds at Lake of the Woods. The DNR
recently surveyed the colonies on the Minnesota side of the lake,
and preliminary estimates seem to show a stable cormorant
population there, Pfannmuller said.

Also, a biologist with Voyageurs National Park is doing
telemetry work on a colony of 300 to 400 nesting pairs of
cormorants on Rainy and Kabetogama lakes to study their movements,
she said.

DNR biologists are looking at the state’s other large lakes to
see if the possibility exists that what happened at Leech Lake
might occur elsewhere, Pfannmuller said.

“All of our research focus (so far) has really been up at Leech
Lake,” she said.

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