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American White Pelecan
Pelecanus erythrorhynchos



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Pelecanidae

Physical Characteristics

About 62 inches (155 cm) tall with a wingspan of 8-9.5 feet (2.5-3 m). A large white bird with short legs, black primaries, a large, long, flat yellow-orange bill, and a huge throat pouch that is flat when deflated (Peterson, 1990). The bill is 11-15 inches (28-38 cm) long, the feet and legs are yellow (Ligon, 1961).


Pelecanus erythrorhynchos is found near lakes, marshes, salt bays, and beaches (Peterson, 1990).

Geographic Range

This species is primarily found from south-central British Columbia eastward through northeastern Alberta, northwestern Saskatchewan, central Manitoba, and southwestern Ontario and south to northern California, western Nevada, northern Utah, northern Colorado, northeastern South Dakota, and southwestern Minnesota; occasional on the central coast of Texas and from central to southern California. Winters along the Pacific coast from central California and southern Arizona south along the western lowlands of Mexico to Guatemala and Nicaragua and from Florida and the Gulf states south along the Gulf coast of Mexico to Tabasco and the state of Yucatan (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).


The American White Pelican eats fish. It captures them while swimming. The bill enters the water and scoops up the fish. As the Pelican resumes a sitting position on the water the bill is closed, pointed downwards allowing the water to drain from the pouch; the bill is then raised and the bird swallows (Forbush and May, 1955). The pouch is capable of holding over 3 gallons of water (Leahy, 1982).

Reproductive Characteristics

The nest is usually constructed of sticks, grasses, and reeds built on the ground. Generally an island on an inland lake is chosen by this communal nester (Forbush and May, 1955). There are two to four chalky-white eggs. The incubation period is 1 month. Both parents feed the young, increasing the chances of two to three young surviving (Perrins and Middleton, 1985). Nestlings are very noisy (Leahy, 1982).


Nestlings squeal, while adults are silent with a rare low croak (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Forbush, E. H., and J. B. May. 1955. A natural history of American birds of eastern and central North America. Bramhall House, New York, 552 pp.

Leahy, C. 1982. The birdwatcher's companion: an encyclopedic handbook of North American birdlife. Hill and Wang, New York, 917 pp.

Ligon, J. S. 1961. New Mexico birds and where to find them. The University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 360 pp.

Perrins, C. M., and A. L. A. Middleton, eds. 1985. The encyclopedia of birds. Equinox, Ltd., Oxford, 447 pp.

Peterson, R.T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.


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