AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The American White Pelican is white except for the wing tips, which are black. It has a large orange specialized bill, with an extensible pouch on the lower mandible to scoop up fish and filter out water. The breeding male will grow an appendix on the top part of the bill near the tip. The feet are orange. Except for the above sexes are similar. This is one of the largest birds in North America, with a length of around 150 cm (60 inches) and an average wingspan of 2.8 meters (110 inches).
NAME: The English and Latin (genus) names of this bird has its origin from Greek and would roughly mean ‘to peck with an axe’. This meaning was attributed to birds with an unusual bill shape (Choate). The Latin species name ‘erythrorhynchos’ means ‘red bill’.
HABITAT: Wetlands in the boreal forest, shallow lakes, coastal lagoons.
DIET:Mainly fish caught while swimming. These birds will cooperate when hunting small fish in shallow water, bringing the fish closer together to scoop them up. Does not dive from air to catch prey.
NESTING: American white pelicans build their nests in colonies, and double-crested cormorants can sometimes be found with them. The nest is a mound made up of mud and other beach materials. One or two white eggs are laid, incubated by both parents.
DISTRIBUTION: Breeding range includes the Prairie Provinces. Around 20% of the species breed in the boreal forest. During migration it is found in the western part of the USA. It is a year-round resident in the southern part of the USA, most of Mexico and the coastal areas of Central America.
ON PEI: The American white pelican does not breed on Prince Edward Island. Sightings have been accidental (see note below on bird vagrancy), such as when an individual gets blown off course by a storm. This is what happened in November 2012 with super storm Sandy.
CONSERVATION: This pelican population has increased in the last few decades in spite of threats from shooting at some aquaculture sites and habitat degradation. Overall it is currently not considered at risk, but is ‘threatened’ in Ontario.
NOTES: In spite of their large size, these birds can soar on favorable winds with great ease. They fly in groups, either in line or ‘V’ formations.
The extensible pouch of the pelican is not for carrying food (or anything else), contrary to popular belief.
Sometimes while draining water from their pouch to only keep the prey, some nimble birds such as gulls or terns will help themselves right from the pouch.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Great White Pelican
REFERENCES: (New Hampshire PBS) (Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota) (Missouri Department of Conservation)
American white pelican – Fulton Harbour, TX – Mar. 7, 2017 – by Jodi Arsenault
American white pelican, Jodi Arsenault
American white pelicans – Rockport Country Club, TX – Jan. 31, 2017 – by Jodi Arsenault
American white pelicans, Jodi Arsenault

Brown & American white pelicans – Aransas Bay, TX – Sept. 17, 2016 – by Jodi Arsenault
American white and Brown pelicans
Aransas Bay, TX, by Jodi Arsenault