American White Pelican

 American White Pelican

Scientific name: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Classification: Water bird
Size: Body size – 50 to 62 inches, Wingspan – 8 to 9 ½ feet, Weight – about 7500 grams


The American white pelican is a large, white, water bird. It has a very large orange/yellow bill with a pouch and black primary and outer secondary feathers. It flies with its neck tucked. Juveniles have a grayish bill and black plumage on the back of their heads.


Life span:

While American white pelicans may live to be 30 years old, the average life expectancy is probably between 15 and 20 years.



American white pelicans are found in herbaceous wetlands, riparian habitats, lakes, rivers, estuaries, bays, and marshes. Nesting occurs on islands isolated from land predators generally by deep water. They forage in shallow lakes.



Scattered colonies occur in western and central north America. The winter range extends from the southern coastal united states south through central America.


Natural history:

Most populations of American white pelicans are long distance migrants. They will also commute significant distances daily between foraging and nesting areas. American white pelicans are gregarious throughout the year. They soar on thermal air currents for long-distance travel and fly in a line as a flock.


Food habits:

The diet consists mainly of fish, but salamanders and crayfish may also be eaten. The birds scoop up fish while swimming. They often work cooperatively, forming a semicircle in shallow water to herd fish.



One to three eggs are laid and incubated for an average of 31 to 32 days by both parents. Usually only one chick survives to fledging. Both parents tend the young, which leave the nest in approximately 21 to 28 days to join other young in a group. Full fledging occurs at 9 to 10 weeks and sexual maturity is reached at about 3 years of age.

Anaho island, located at pyramid lake, Nevada, supports one of the highest breeding colonies of American white pelicans in the western united states. Anaho island national wildlife refuge on the eastern shoreline of pyramid lake, Washoe county in Nevada was established in 1913 as a sanctuary for colonial nesting birds, primarily American white pelicans. In recent years, between 8000 and 10,000 pelicans have returned from their wintering grounds in southern California and Baja, Mexico.



Nesting populations in Nevada fluctuate greatly, cycling between high (over 6,000) to very low (zero) numbers of nesting pairs within two to three years. American white pelicans are given priority focus for conservation in the Nevada partners in flight bird conservation plan. The species receives protection under the migratory bird treaty act.


Reason for status:

Breeding colonies are considered vulnerable to environmental change due to the relative scarcity of suitable nesting sites. Threats include habitat loss, water level problems as a result of drought, predation, pesticide contamination, and disturbance or shooting by humans.


Management & conservation:

Necessary management efforts include maintenance of water levels in nesting and foraging areas, prevention of access to nesting colonies by predators, restriction of pesticide use, and prevention of shooting. The great basin population, of which Nevada’s population is a significant part, supports approximately eighteen percent of the world’s breeding American white pelicans, making its conservation very important to the world’s population.


Fun facts:

The adults in breeding plumage have a centerboard on the ridge of the bill.