American White Pelican
At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Duck-like Birds, Pelicans
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Formation, Running, Soaring
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
55-70" (1.4-1.8 m). W. 9' (2.7 m). Almost unmistakable. In high flight, looks all white with black flight feathers in wings; compare to Wood Stork and Whooping Crane. Early in breeding season, adults develop raised vertical plate on bill, shed later in year.
About the size of a Heron
Black, Orange, White, Yellow
Broad, Fingered, Long, Tapered
Songs and Calls
Usually silent; grunts or croaks on nesting grounds.
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.
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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.
mostly fish. Primarily eats "rough" fish of little value to humans; also crayfish, salamanders.
Colonies are vulnerable to disturbance and habitat loss. Total population probably declined through first half of 20th century, substantial increase since 1970s.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the American White Pelican. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
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.