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White Pelican white pelican

Identification and Pictures

(Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)white pelican

White pelicans are large water birds, 54 to 70 inches with a wing span of 8 to 9 1/2 feet.  They are white with black primaries, visible when they fly, or flap their wings.  They have orange legs, and feet, and large flat orange-yellow bills with large throat pouches.  During breeding the adults have a horn on the top of their bill. The sexes look similar.  Juvenile birds have a light gray color on their heads, necks, and wings.  They are very buoyant swimmers and scoop fish into their throat pouch as they swim.

white pelican

Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

white pelicans

They congregate in flocks which fly in lines and broken V formations, often circling on thermal currents high in the air.     


The voice of the adult pelicans is a low grown, but they usually make little noise.  Younger birds make whining sounds. 

Preferred Habitat

White pelicans form into huge colonies, and can be found near water sources such as lakes, marshes, and beaches.  Most populations are migratory.

Breeding and Nesting

During courtship the birds take short flights, strut, and bow displaying their large orange bills.  Once they pair off the two birds will select a nest site usually on open ground.  They prefer to nest on isolated islands, or sandbars to avoid predators.  The nest built by both birds is a shallow depression surrounded by dirt or vegetation.  The female will lay 2 to 3 large whitish eggs, and both birds will incubate them for a month.  After hatching both parents will feed the young birds regurgitated food for about 30 days.  They will fledge in about 10 weeks.  The parents will care for them during this time.  The young birds will form into groups called crèches or pods.


White pelicans eat fish, frogs, salamanders, and aquatic invertebrates.  They fish while swimming, scooping up fish in their large throat pouch.  The birds often cooperate while fishing by circling the fish or driving them towards shore.  They will forage at night during breeding season.


To learn about other favorite birds click here.

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