American White Pelican

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Scientific Name:

  • Pelecanus erythorhynchos.

Distribution:

  • Northern California, western Nevada, Utah, Colorado, northeastern South Dakota, southwestern Minnesota and occasionally the central coast of Texas; they winter along the Pacific in Central California, south along the Mexican coast to Guatemala and Nicaragua; also along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico; occasionally found along the Mississippi River.

Habitat:

  • Brackish and freshwater lakes, salt bays, marshes, beaches and rivers.

Diet:

  • More than 4 pounds of fish per day; American white pelicans do not dive to catch prey – it simply floats along the water and scoops up fish with its enormous bill; the bill can hold 3 gallons of water; after fish are caught, the bill is pointed downward allowing the water to drain out; often fish ingroups.

Behavior:

  • They nest in colonies of several hundred pairs on islands in remote lakes of inland North America; female lays 2-3 chalky white eggs in a shallow depression on the ground; both parents incubate and feed the young by regurgitation; young are dependent for about 5 months.
  • Adults rarely make any noise, but when they do it is usually a low grunt.

Identification:

  • Adults – white with black primaries and outer secondaries; yellowish pouch connected to the lower mandible that stretches up to six inches; webbed feet are bright orange; legs are orange and extremely short; Immature – mostly white wing coverts mottled head and neck grayish; Juvenile – dusky overall.
  • Males and females are indistinguishable except during breeding season when the male develops a fibrous plate on the upper part of the beak, the crest becomes bright yellow, and the bill becomes bright orange; the “horn” is shed after the eggs are laid.
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