American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

As the name might suggest, the American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is predominantly white in color with black plumage on its wings, and is approximately 60 inches in length with a 110 inch wingspan. They have very long, orange bills with pouches on their lower mandibles, and short legs with large webbed feet. Another very unique characteristic of the American White Pelican’s beak is that males develop a fibrous plate on the upper part of their beaks during the mating season.

The American White Pelican is an extremely social bird, and is always found in colonies, or in the company of a friend. They are also family orientated, and therefore they will breed and rear their families in the safety of the colony. They tend to nest on islands and quiet areas, where the female can lay two to four white eggs, with a one month incubation period. Nests are built on the ground, using grass, reeds and sticks. Both parents take an active role in the rearing of their young, as both male and female pelicans will participate in feeding. The adult birds are very quiet, with the exception of the occasional grunt. The young however, will make themselves heard by squealing noisily.

As the American White Pelican feeds on fish, they are found in coastal areas, near lakes and even in marshes. That includes areas such as Utah, northern California, southwestern Minnesota, northeastern South Dakota and Colorado. Occasionally, the pelicans can be seen on the coast of Texas. During the winter months, they are known to migrate to the Pacific Coast.

It might seem to be impossible for birds of their size to float on top of the water, but the American White Pelican has the advantage of air-filled bones and air sacs that are located in their bodies. In contrast to other pelican species that dive from great heights to catch food, the White Pelican simply glides around, scooping fish out the water with its immense pouch. As the pelican is bound to scoop as much water as he does fish, the pouch is able to hold about 3 gallons of water. And instead of swallowing gallons of water with his meal, he bends his bill downward to drain the water, and then lifts his head up, to let his catch slide down his throat. An adult American White Pelican can eat approximately four pounds of fish a day, with preferred choices being that of jackfish, shiners, catfish, carp and yellow perch.