American White Pelican

American White Pelican Picture

An American White Pelican is a fun bird to see while bird watching. Below are some tips to help you identify American White Pelicans. We have also put together a list of fun American White Pelican t-shirts, American White Pelican bird patches, bird houses, bird feeders, binoculars, stickers and other fun bird watching items.

About American White Pelicans

With its majestic white and black wings, the American White Pelican commands the skies with great steadiness. It is also an aquatic migrating species breeding mostly in North America but moves south toward the coast, Central America, and South America during the winter season.

American White Pelican Color Pattern

While standing or perched, the American White Pelican seems all white but on flight its black wing feathers become visible. Adults are usually snowy white with a small patch of yellow during spring, and their legs and large bill are orange in color. It is dusky around its head, neck, and back.

Description and Identification

American White Pelicans are some of the biggest birds on the North American continent. When they’re in flight, you’ll be floored by their nine-foot wingspan. They look like Brown Pelicans, but they are larger with distinctive habits. They live far inland as well as along some coasts, and they don’t dive from the air for the fish they eat. They feed cooperatively in shallow lakes as well. Even though they’re huge, they fly well, and you can see flocks making turns and wheeling about together. They boast bright white plumage with some black on the wings and long orange beaks. They have large heads, and their weighty bills make them look like something from prehistoric times.

American White Pelican Size

It has a large bill that gives it a long shape with a long neck. Their bodies are relatively thick with short legs and tails. When the breeding season is upon them the males grow an unusual horn on the upper part of their bill. They are about 127-165 centimeters in length. They weigh 4500-9000 grams and have a wingspan of 244-290 centimeters.

Picture of American White Pelicans

American White Pelican Behavior

They tend to fish by dipping their beaks into the water. Those living in salty water areas travel great distances for their food. They are fond of flocking to groups made of more than a dozen birds as they share their catch.

American White Pelicans Diet

These birds are foragers, and they place their bills into water and scoop fish up in their pouches as they swim on the surface. They often forage at night during the breeding season. They find dinner by putting their bills in water continuously so they can touch fish. During the day, they can likely see their prey. Sometimes they forage in groups, helping each other by pushing fish toward shallow water as a team. They eat mostly fish that humans don’t typically want to eat (minnows, carp, suckers), and they are also known to eat salamanders and crayfish. They may also eat deeper water fish like tui chub or cutthroat trout when they spawn in shallow waters or are otherwise easy to catch.

A single white pelican can eat up to 2 kilograms of food in a single day. They feed on mostly rainbow trout, crayfish, and occasionally amphibians. Catfish and yellow perch also make up part of their seafood menu.

American White Pelican Habitat

These birds breed mostly on remote islands in lakes or islands in shallow wetlands in the northern Great Plains. They find food in shallow water on inland marshes, wetlands, and near lake and river edges. You can see them 30 miles or more from where they nest. They forage on deeper lakes in the summer when fish come up to the sun on the lakes’ surfaces. They stop to rest in similar habitats when they migrate. They don’t usually winter inland, but Southern California’s the Salton Sea is an exception. You may also see them on rivers where ice doesn’t form because of moving water, like areas under dams. 

Their usual breeding ground is on wetlands where the water is shallow and there is a rocky island present. But during winter they can be found mostly along the coastal regions.

Range and Migration

The American White Pelican is a migratory species, but a few populations don’t migrate. Those that live on the Texas coast and in Mexico stay put all year. Those breeders living in the northern plains head southeast and southwest to areas on the seashore, and nonbreeding birds remain through the summer in wintering areas, like Florida. Some individuals wander at will, even to the northeastern part of the continent. You will find these birds in the northernmost parts of Canada and much of the U.S. (but not often in the northeastern areas). Make sure to look for them in places far inland like North and South Dakota, and even parts of northern Colorado and the Great Plains provinces of Canada. 

American White Pelican Lifecycle

Both males and females develop a bump on their large beaks which is shed after the breeding season. The female lays 1 to 6 eggs on the maximum which the pair incubates together for a whole month and the young one leaves 4 weeks later after hatching.


A breeding pair finds a flat area on gravel, sand, or soil close to other pelicans who are also in the same part of the breeding cycle. They make nests in sparse vegetation in southern, more arid areas, and, in the forests, they may nest beneath trees or shrubs. Males and females utilize their bills to bring dirt and gravel to construct a shallow crater-like nest that is about two feet in diameter. The rim is typically less than eight inches tall. Sometimes, they burrow at the bottom of the nest and may add vegetation from close by. Neither of the pair will venture beyond the nest to find material. 


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying American White Pelicans

The most common types of bird-watching binoculars for viewing American White Pelicans are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

American White Pelican 3D Paper Craft Model

This American White Pelican 3D papercraft model is a great way to learn about birds and have fun doing it. This model is like a puzzle where you have to connect the pieces together. It is designed for adults or skilled crafty teens. The difficulty level is medium to hard but is fun.

American White Pelican T-shirts

If you love the American White Pelican you should purchase a Bird Watching Academy & Camp T-shirt. To help support bird conservation we donate 10 percent to bird conservation activities.

American White Pelican Iron On Patches

Kids, Youth, and Adults love to collect our Bird Watching Academy & Camp iron-on patches. Our bird-watching patches help you keep track of the birds you have seen and identified. You can also display the patches on our Bird Watching Academy & Camp banners.

The American White Pelican is a great iron-on patch to start your collection with. The patches are durable and can be sewn on or ironed on to just about anything.

American White Pelican Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the American White Pelican. Here is the sticker pack we sell with an American White Pelican sticker.

American White Pelican Activities for Kids

We thought a fun Perler bead pattern would be fun for kids. Please download and print with 100% scale to fit perfectly with Perler bead patterns.

Bird Feeders For American White Pelicans

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Best Bird House for an American White Pelican

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 bird houses have become our favorites. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these bird houses but they have been worth the higher price and look great. 

Please Share to Help Us Get Kids Bird Watching