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American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos


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American White Pelicans
credit: Alan D. Wilson/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Pelecanidae, Pelicans view all from this family

Description ADULT Appears mainly white, but in breeding season breast is flushed faintly with yellow-buff and crown sometimes appears grubby looking. Black flight feathers are mostly hidden in swimming and standing birds. Legs are reddish orange; bill and bare skin surrounding eye are reddish orange in breeding season but more yellowish in winter. JUVENILE Similar to adult, but with faint gray feathering on neck and upper wing coverts, and duller bill colors.

Dimensions Length: 55-70" (1.4-1.8 m); Wngspn: 8' (2.4 m)

Habitat Locally common breeding species, nesting colonially on large lakes with abundant fish, mainly in midwestern prairie states. Outside breeding season, moves south to southern U.S. states and Mexico, favoring large freshwater lakes and coastal lagoons and estuaries.

Observation Tips Large enough to not be easily missed, and usually tolerant enough of people, allowing good views, especially during winter months. Soaring flocks are an amazing sight, as are groups engaged in collective feeding.

Range Texas, Alaska, Mid-Atlantic, California, Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Southeast, Northwest, Plains, New England, Western Canada, Florida, Eastern Canada

Voice Mostly silent, although soft grunts are uttered by nesting birds.

Discussion Huge and unmistakable waterbird with the typical pelican form: plump body, proportionately long neck, and extremely long, hooked-tip bill with expandable gular pouch. Essentially white plumage, seen in standing and swimming bird, is transformed when bird takes to the air, revealing contrasting black flight feathers. Wingspan is immense (W 108 in), allowing bird to soar and glide with ease; note the distinctive wing pattern, proportionately short tail, and forward-projecting bill. Swims with ease, by means of large, webbed feet. Feeds on fish by engulfing shoals in huge, yellow gular pouch; often feeds collectively. Sexes are similar.