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American White Pelican

From Opus

Coming into breeding plumagePhoto by LeslieWestlake Village, California, USA, January 2004
Coming into breeding plumage
Photo by Leslie
Westlake Village, California, USA, January 2004
Pelecanus erythrorhynchos


[edit] Identification

Length 127-178 cm, wingspan 240-300 cm, weight 5-8.5 kg.

  • A huge white bird
  • Long flat orange-yellow bill (flushed red during courtship display), orange legs.
  • Black primary and secondary feathers.

Breeding: has short yellowish crest on back of head and an erect horny plate on upper mandible.
At the end of the breeding season they undergo a few changes to the breeding plumage appearance. The "horn" on the upper mandible is lost, and many birds show short gray feathers on the crown and nape, which is described as "supplemental" plumage.

Supplemental plumage Photo by blubirdLas Gallinas, San Rafael, California, July 2008
Supplemental plumage
Photo by blubird
Las Gallinas, San Rafael, California, July 2008

Juvenile duskier gray-brown than adults.

[edit] Distribution

Breeds from interior British Columbia and Mackenzie south to northern California, Utah, and Manitoba; also along Texas Gulf Coast. Winters from central California, Gulf Coast, and Florida south to Panama.
Annual vagrant to most states in the northeast and along the east coast.

[edit] Taxonomy

This is a monotypic species[1].

[edit] Habitat

Photo by kmdipaoloWest Alton, Missouri, April 2008
Photo by kmdipaolo
West Alton, Missouri, April 2008

Shallow freshwater lakes and marshes; also uses islets in saline lakes for breeding. In winter also on coastal lagoons and brackish ponds.

[edit] Behaviour

[edit] Diet

They work cooperatively in small groups, herding fish into shallow water and then scooping them up in their gigantic pouches.

[edit] Breeding

Head shot in breeding plumage, showing the horny "plate" Photo by blubirdLake Merritt, Oakland, California, U.S., April 2011
Head shot in breeding plumage, showing the horny "plate"
Photo by blubird
Lake Merritt, Oakland, California, U.S., April 2011

They lay 1-6 (most often 2) whitish eggs on a low mound of earth and debris on a marshy island; occasionally on rocky islands in desert lakes. Nests in colonies.
The plate-like growth(s) on the upper mandible are shed after the eggs are laid.

[edit] Vocalisation

They are mostly silent but will make croaking noises on the breeding grounds.

[edit] References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, B.L. Sullivan, C. L. Wood, and D. Roberson. 2013. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.8., with updates to August 2013. Downloaded from
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliot, and J Sargatal, eds. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334108
  3. enature

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