American White Pelican

American White Pelican
Photographer: Elaine R Wilson of

American White Pelican
Photographer: Alan D Wilson of

American White Pelican in Flight
Photographer: Alan D Wilson of

American White Pelican Range Map (North America)
American White Pelican Range Map
(North America)
Latin Name Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Conservation Status Least Concern
Location North America
Colour White
Length 127 - 165 cm (50 - 65 inches)
Wingspan 244 - 290 cms (96 - 114 inches)
Weight 4.5 - 9 Kgs (9.9 - 19.8 lbs)
Life Expectancy Up to 25 Yrs

Main Characteristics

The American White Pelican is one of North America's largest birds. They reach lengths between 127 and 165 cms (50 - 65 inches), they have a wingspan between 244 and 290 cms (96 - 114 inches) and they weigh between 4.5 and 9 kgs (9.9 - 19.8 lbs).

They are white in colour with long, broad wings that are black on the tips. They have a large body, short legs, a short tail and webbed feet. They have a long, orange bill that has a pouch on the lower half and during the breeding season a fibrous keel develops on the upper half.

They are graceful when they fly and they move their wings with slow, powerful strokes.

During the breeding season adults have low, hoarse display calls, but they are generally silent when they are not nesting.


American White Pelicans are found in the shallow lakes and coastal lagoons of North America. They spend the winter months in California, Mexico, along the Gulf Coast and in Florida. During the summer they breed from western Manitoba and Minnesota to northern California.


American White Pelicans feed on fish, mainly carp, chubs, catfish, yellow perch and jackfish. Each individual consumes more than 1.8 kgs (4 lbs) of fish per day.

They do not dive to catch their prey, instead they dip their head underwater and scoop up fish. Several pelicans fish cooperatively where they move into a circle to concentrate the fish, then they dip their heads under simultaneously to catch fish.


American White Pelicans nest in colonies between April and June depending on their location. 2 - 3 white eggs are laid in a shallow depression on the ground. Both parents incubate the eggs and after a period of 31 - 32 days the eggs hatch.

Both parents look after the young and after 17 - 28 days the chicks leave the nest and form groups with other young birds in the colony. When they reach 10 - 11 weeks old they are able to fly and they leave the breeding grounds.

Mortality of eggs and chicks is high and if eggs are lost the parents do not renest in the same breeding season. American White Pelicans reach sexual maturity at 3 years of age.


Humans are the main predator of adult American White Pelicans. Eggs and chicks fall prey to gulls.


There are no subspecies of the American White Pelican.

Interesting Facts

The American White Pelican is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Pelicans and their relatives make up the order "Pelecaniformes" and they can be distinguished from other birds by having feet with all four toes webbed - totipalmate.

Similar Animals

Brown Pelican
Great White Pelican

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