Wildlife and Invasive Species Education (WISE) Species Profile: American White Pelican

Common Name: American White Pelican

Status: Native Species

Scientific Name: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Identification: The White Pelican is one of the largest birds in North America. White Pelicans have an average length of about 5 ft., an average wingspan of about 9.5 ft., and weighing in at a hefty ~19 lbs. White Pelicans are adorned with snow-white feathers, having a outline of black flight feathers on their wings. They have a large orange bill and orange legs. These pelicans prefer more inland areas on average as opposed to the coastal loving Brown Pelicans.

Description: White Pelicans are winter residents in Florida. One can easily find them in a flag pond or large lake in the months of November, December, and January. White Pelicans are gregarious, preferring to congregate in large groups. It is not uncommon to see flocks up to several hundred. Don’t ignore the skies. You may see their large V-shaped formation flying by. In their breeding range, White Pelicans create nests on the ground made up of gravel or sand, and even vegetation in some areas.

Diet: White Pelicans prefer a diet of fish, though they may not pass up an easy meal such as a small amphibian or arthropod. Unlike their cousins the Brown Pelican, White Pelicans do not dive for fish. They will swim on top the surface, dipping their large beak in the water, scooping up fish in their large pouch. It is not uncommon to see collaborative feeding. One group will herd fish into another group.

Interesting Facts:

  • A large yellow plate will emerge on their bill during breeding season.
  • White Pelican populations suffered in the 1800’s due to demand for feathers and also in the 1970’s due to pesticides.
  • White Pelican chicks can swim at around 3 weeks after hatching.

Cover Photo Credit: Jim E. Davis

References: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_White_Pelican/id






Posted: December 30, 2021

Category: Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Extension, Wildlife

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