American White Pelican
|Geographical Range||Inland from central Canada west to Oregon and the central California coast (summer); Georgia, Florida, the Gulf coast states, and southern California (winter).|
|Habitat||Estuaries, coastlines, freshwater lakes, reservoirs and marshes (feeding); open water wetlands (breeding).|
|Scientific Name||Pelicanus erythrorhynchos|
The American white pelican is one of the largest birds in North America. The body of a big adult can measure more than four feet in length, with a wingspan of more than eight feet. The pelican’s long bill is orange, with an extendable throat pouch on the underside. Though most of its plumage is pure white, the outer feathers of its wings are black. The pelican’s legs and webbed feet are orange. Males and females look alike.
Pelicans are fish eaters. But the white pelican doesn’t dive for fish like its cousin the brown pelican does. Instead, it dips its head underwater to scoop up its prey. White pelicans have been observed fishing cooperatively. Several birds congregate on top of the water in a circle, thereby “herding” the fish into a denser mass. Then each pelican dips its head beneath the surface simultaneously to snag a meal.
White pelicans are migratory birds. They breed in inland Canada and in scattered sites in the northern United States. In the U.S., one of their larger breeding sites is Minnesota. In the spring, they leave their winter breeding grounds to fly to the rich wetland feeding grounds in the Gulf Coast. The easiest time for Missouri residents to catch a glimpse of migrating pelicans is in April, the peak migration season here.
Although the American white pelican is in no danger of extinction in the wild, many of the breeding colonies in the U.S. and Canada are threatened by habitat loss, pesticide contamination, and water level disturbances.