American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

American White Pelican

[order] PELECANIFORMES | [family] Pelecanidae | [latin] Pelecanus erythrorhynchos | [UK] American White Pelican | [FR] Pelican d’Amerique | [DE] Nashornpelikan | [ES] Pelicano Norteamericano | [NL] Witte Pelikaan


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Huge (wingspread 8endash
9 1/2 feet). White, with black primaries and a great orange-yellow bill. Adults in breeding plumage have a “centerboard” on the ridge of the bill. Immatures have a dusky bill. This pelican does not plunge from the air like the Brown Pel
ican but scoops up fish while swimming. ul

Listen to the sound of American White Pelican

[audio: White Pelican.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 240 cm wingspan max.: 290 cm
size min.: 127 cm size max.: 165 cm
incubation min.: 29 days incubation max.: 36 days
fledging min.: 65 days fledging max.: 75 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 3  


North America : Central


Lakes, marshes, salt bays. In
breeding season mostly inland, nesting on isolated islands in lakes and feeding on shallow lakes, rivers, marshes. Feeding areas may be miles from nesting sites. Also breeds locally on coastal islands. Flocks in migration stop on lakes, rivers. Winters ma
inly along coast, on shallow, protected bays and estuaries, also on large lakes in warm climates.


First breeds at age of 3 years. Courtship displays include 2 (or more) birds strutting with heads erect, bills pointed down; deep bowing with wings slightly raised; high, circling courtship flights by groups. Breeds in colonies.
Nest: Site is on ground, usually open bare soil, sometimes among grasses or under trees. Nest (built by both sexes) is shallow depression surrounded by low rim of dirt, stones, plant material.
Eggs: 2. Dull white, becoming nest-stained. Both sexes incubate by holding eggs under webs of feet. Incubation period about 30 days.
Young: Second young to hatch usually dies within 2 weeks, but sometimes both young fledge, especially in years with abundant food supply. Both parents feed young. Young leave nest 17-25 d
ays after hatching, gather in groups. Age at first flight 9-10 weeks, leave colony at 10-11 weeks.

Feeding habits

Mostly fish. Primarily eats “rough” fish of little value to humans; also crayfish, salamanders.
Behavior: Forages by swimming on surface, dippi
ng bill into water and scooping up fish in pouch. During breeding season does much foraging at night, locating fish by touch by frequently dipping bill; by day, probably locates prey visually. May forage cooperatively, lining up and driving fish toward sh
allower water.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
American White Pelican status Least Concern


Western and central North America; winters to southeastern United States and Central America. Migration:
Migrates by day, in flocks. Breeders from northern plains migrate southeast and southwest to coastal lowlands. Some non-breeders remain through summer on winter range, especially in Florida. Strays wander widely, including to Northeast.

Distribution map

American White Pelican distribution range map

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