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Birding the Coast



Lydia's Birding Blog

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CGAS, PO Box 21726, SSI, GA 31522

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American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos


Conservation status

Colonies are vulnerable to disturbance and habitat loss. Total population probably declined through first half of 20th century, substantial increase since 1970s.




Lakes, marshes, salt bays. In breeding season mostly inland, nesting on isolated islands in lakes and feeding on shallow lakes, rivers, marshes. Feeding areas may be miles from nesting sites. Also breeds locally on coastal islands. Flocks in migration stop on lakes, rivers. Winters mainly along coast, on shallow, protected bays and estuaries, also on large lakes in warm climates.


One of the largest birds in North America, with a 9-foot wingspan. Similar to Brown Pelican in shape but much larger, and very different in habits: Occurs far inland, feeds cooperatively in shallow lakes, does not dive from the air for fish. Despite its great size, a spectacular flier, with flocks often soaring very high in the air, ponderously wheeling and circling in unison.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by swimming on surface, dipping bill into water and scooping up fish in pouch. During breeding season does much foraging at night, locating fish by touch during frequent dipping of bill; by day, probably locates prey visually. May forage cooperatively, lining up and driving fish toward shallower water.


Mostly fish. Primarily eats "rough" fish of little value to humans; also crayfish, salamanders.