The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says American white pelicans are nesting at a central North Dakota refuge in near-record numbers.

Biologist Alisa Bartos says the agency estimates about 32,000 pelicans returned to the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

A record 35,466 birds were counted in 2000 at the refuge, which is the largest nesting colony for the big-billed birds in North America.

Bartos says rising water levels swallowed one of the two main nesting islands at the refuge this year. But she says there is still a lot of land left at the remaining island for the big birds to nest.

The pelicans normally stay in North Dakota through September, raising their young and feasting at small prairie ponds within a 100-mile radius of the refuge.