American White Pelican: Huge, white seabird, enormous outstretched wings show black primaries, outer secondaries in flight. Bill, legs are bright orange, upper bill develops a fibrous keel during breeding season. Slow, deep wing beats. Soars high on thermals. Flies in straight line or V formation.
Range and Habitat
American White Pelican: Breeds from Alberta and Saskatchewan south to northern California, Utah, and Colorado; also breeds along the Gulf Coast in southern Texas and northern Mexico. Spends winters in the southern U.S. in California, Arizona, and the Gulf Coast states south to Panama. Preferred habitats include shallow lakes and coastal lagoons.
The order PELECANIFORMES (pronounced pel-leh-KAN-ih-FOR-meez) is composed of six families including the gannets and boobies, darters, pirate-like frigatebirds and the unmistakable pelicans.
In the Pelicanidae family (pronounced pel-leh-KAN-ih-dee), there are eight species of pelicans, all found in the same genus.
There are two species of pelicans in one genus in North America. These two species are the Brown Pelican and the huge American White Pelican.
Pelicans are most well known for their massive, pouched bills that can hold fairly large fish and nearly three gallons of water.
Pelicans are large birds with short tails, long, broad wings, and large heads with a distinctive, massive pouched bill. They have rather stocky bodies with webbed feet on short legs.
The Brown Pelican of the Americas is one of the only pelican species with mostly brown plumage (the other being the closely related Peruvian Pelican of South America). Other species have plumages similar to that of the American White Pelican; gray or white with black markings on the wings. Other colors are limited to yellow as shown by the beak of the American White Pelican, and yellowish and reddish on the head and beak of the Brown Pelican during the breeding season.
Pelicans are aquatic birds that require large bodies of water with abundant fish populations. The two North American species avoid competition by occupying different habitats; the Brown Pelican in coastal marine waters and the American White Pelican breeding in extensive freshwater marshes of the central and western regions and wintering in southern, coastal lagoons.
While Brown Pelicans are for the most part resident, the American White Pelican migrates to coastal lagoons in the southern United States and Mexico.
Colony nesters and foraging in flocks, pelicans are social birds, the American White Pelican more so than the Brown. This species is rarely seen alone and is more often found in impressive flocks of hundreds that wheel and soar high above western wetlands on huge wings. When foraging, flocks of American White Pelicans dip their bills to scoop fish out of shallow marshes. This is in contrast to the spectacular ocean dives for fish that Brown Pelicans make.
In the past, DDT caused Brown Pelican populations to decline to the point of becoming endangered. Fortunately, since the banning of DDT in North America, this species has made a comeback and is once more fairly common. The American White Pelican though, has unfortunately been declining in recent years due to pesticides and drainage of its wetland habitat.
Despite consuming large amount of fish, pelican species don’t compete with fisherman because they eat mostly “non-game” species. When foraging, American White Pelicans sometimes herd these fish into shallow water for easier pickings.