RENO — A small desert island in Pyramid Lake that serves as home to 10,000 American white pelicans is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a wildlife sanctuary about 30 miles north of Reno.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials were joining leaders of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe on Saturday for the centennial celebration at one of the country’s most important nesting spots for the birds just off the lake’s east shore.
President Woodrow Wilson designated Anaho Island a wildlife sanctuary in 1913 in recognition of its importance to pelicans and other birds, including California gulls, double-crested cormorants and great blue herons.
Donna Withers, a refuge specialist with the wildlife service, said it’s one of the largest nesting areas for the pelicans west of the Rocky Mountains. She’s been studying the 600-acre island and its inhabitants for 14 years.
“It’s just unique,” Withers told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I don’t want to say mystical, but it’s just an awesome place.”
Every year beginning in April, the pelicans converge on Anaho, producing an average of 5,000 nests, with the height of nesting season coinciding with spawning runs of Pyramid Lake’s cui-ui fish, a primary food source for the birds. The pelicans typically stay until about August, when newly born chicks become capable of flight.
Elwood Lowery, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, said the arrival of the pelicans traditionally has signaled the cui-ui are about to spawn.
The island, a volcanic formation studded with odd-shaped tufa deposits, is premium habitat for nesting birds because it has no predators such as coyotes.
People are prohibited from going to the island, with boaters required to remain at least 1,000 feet from the shores.
Other than birds, the island’s primary residents are a surprisingly sizable population of Great Basin rattlesnakes.
How they got to the island isn’t really known, but they likely slithered there long ago when the lake was lower and the island was connected by a land bridge to shore, Withers said.
Researchers are studying what the snakes eat. There are mice on Anaho, but probably not enough to support such a large rattlesnake population. They might eat lizards, Withers said.
“All we know is that they’re on the island,” Withers said. “The snakes are recognized as part of the island.”