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American White Pelican

Pelecanus Erythrorhynchos

American white pelicans are highly dependent upon lakes, wetlands and coastal estuaries throughout their life cycles.

American white pelicans, one of two species of pelicans in North America, are one of the largest of the boreal birds. They can weigh as much as 30 pounds and their wing spans can exceed nine feet.

Unlike brown pelicans, which do not occur inland from the coast, American white pelicans do not plunge-dive to feed. They feed while swimming and work together in groups to encircle and trap their prey, usually small fish or crustaceans. During the spring and summer, a breeding adult may eat the equivalent of 40 percent of its own body mass in a single day.

Scientists estimate that about 20 percent of the American white pelican’s population breeds in the boreal forest every year.  American white pelicans are highly dependent upon lakes, wetlands and coastal estuaries throughout their life cycles. Their populations are increasingly threatened – especially in the prairie pothole country of the American Midwest – as wetlands are drained.

American white pelicans breed in two separate groupings, populations west of the Rocky Mountains tend to migrate over deserts and winter on the Pacific Coast. Populations east of the Rocky Mountains migrate along river valleys, including the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, to their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast. Non-migratory (also called sedentary) populations occur in Texas and Mexico.

Learn more about the work of the Conservancy's Migratory Bird Program >>

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