Breeding adult. Photo: Kenton Gomez/Audubon Photography Awards

American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

One of the largest birds in North America, with a 9-foot wingspan. Similar to Brown Pelican in shape but much larger, and very different in habits: Occurs far inland, feeds cooperatively in shallow lakes, does not dive from the air for fish. Despite its great size, a spectacular flier, with flocks often soaring very high in the air, ponderously wheeling and circling in unison.
Conservation status Colonies are vulnerable to disturbance and habitat loss. Total population probably declined through first half of 20th century, substantial increase since 1970s.
Family Pelicans
Habitat 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 mainly along coast, on shallow, protected bays and estuaries, also on large lakes in warm climates.
One of the largest birds in North America, with a 9-foot wingspan. Similar to Brown Pelican in shape but much larger, and very different in habits: Occurs far inland, feeds cooperatively in shallow lakes, does not dive from the air for fish. Despite its great size, a spectacular flier, with flocks often soaring very high in the air, ponderously wheeling and circling in unison.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages by swimming on surface, dipping bill into water and scooping up fish in pouch. During breeding season does much foraging at night, locating fish by touch during frequent dipping of bill; by day, probably locates prey visually. May forage cooperatively, lining up and driving fish toward shallower water.



Diet

mostly fish. Primarily eats "rough" fish of little value to humans; also crayfish, salamanders.


Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Most populations are migratory; some populations on Texas coast and in Mexico are permanent residents. Migrates by day, in flocks. Breeders from northern plains migrate southeast and southwest to coastal lowlands. Some nonbreeding birds remain through summer on winter range, especially in Florida. Strays wander widely, including to northeast.

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Migration

Most populations are migratory; some populations on Texas coast and in Mexico are permanent residents. Migrates by day, in flocks. Breeders from northern plains migrate southeast and southwest to coastal lowlands. Some nonbreeding birds remain through summer on winter range, especially in Florida. Strays wander widely, including to northeast.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Usually silent; grunts or croaks on nesting grounds.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the American White Pelican

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the American White Pelican

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is one of the most important places for birds in North America and is in danger of losing its ecological value. If it does, we will lose a vital part of the Pacific Flyway.

Read more
Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake, with its five globally Important Bird Areas, is drying up. Audubon works with local stakeholders to find sustainable water solutions for birds and all Utahns.

Read more

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