American White Pelican —Ross Feldner

This is one of America’s largest shorebirds with a length of about 5 feet and a impressive 9 foot wingspan, second in size only to the California Condor! American White Pelicans are very gregarious and nest in large colonies. They are snowy white with black flight feathers that are only visible when they fly. During breeding season they develop a yellow crest and a brilliant orange bill. Unlike Brown Pelicans, they don’t dive for fish, instead they float on the surface of the water submerging their heads to scoop up fish.

During the height of the plume trade in the late 1800s, the feathers of white pelicans were in demand, though not as coveted as the plumes of herons and egrets. Both White and Brown pelicans suffered population declines in the 1960s and 1970s because of exposure to pesticides causing death and reproductive failure from eggshell thinning much like Bald Eagles and Osprey.

American White Pelican
Fun Facts

Young are cared for by both parents for three to four weeks, then they join other young within the colony.

White pelican lifespan is 12 to 16 years.

They are graceful fliers, often seen flying in a v-shaped formation and soaring using thermal currents.

A single pelican can eat around 4 pounds of food every day.

Their bill has a pouch that can hold three gallons of water.

A group of pelicans is called a squadron, pod, pouch or scoop.

They are colonial breeders, with up to 5,000 pairs per site!

American white pelicans work together in groups of a dozen or more cooperating to corral fish.

Click here to watch them “herding” fish

Click here to watch a mother feeding its chick


Rachel Carson Council
8600 Irvington Avenue  | Bethesda, Maryland 20817-3604
(301) 214-2400 |

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