American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

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This pelican is one of the largest birds in North America, dwarfing even the Bald Eagle. When mature, both sexes measure over 5 feet (1.5 m) in length and weigh up to 20 lbs. (9.07 kg). They are easily identified by their brilliant white plumage with black-tipped wings and large, thick bills. American White Pelicans are unique in that they work cooperatively when fishing. Sine birds herd or corral fish while others scoop them up in the large pouches on the underside of the bill. Although their diet consists primarily of fish, these birds are opportunistic feeders and they will also hunt amphibians and invertebrates.

The bird’s large size and often aggressive nature helps thwart predators, but Red Foxes, Coyotes, and some predatory birds may still risk confrontation. When threatened, the pelican will use its bill as a formidable weapon, poking at the other animal on the ground or trying to spear it in mid-air.

Range and Habitat

The American White Pelican has a very large migratory range. They typically breed in the northern United States and southern Canada, then fly south to the southern U.S. and Central America during the winter. The birds will congregate around inland lakes and streams during the summer but head to coastal areas the rest of the year.

This is a rare species in Oregon, with the smaller Brown Pelican being much more common. However, White Pelicans can sometimes be observed using the sloughs and marshlands in the Willamette Valley.

Conservation Status

Common. Like other pelican species, this bird was gravely impacted by the use of chemical pesticides during the mid-twentieth century. Exposure to these chemicals caused thin-shelled eggs to be produced which often cracked before chicks could hatch. Bans of these chemical resulted in the bird’s population rebounding to healthy levels today.