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American White Pelican


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

One of the largest North American birds, the American White Pelican is majestic in the air. The birds soar with incredible steadiness on broad, white-and-black wings. Their large heads and huge, heavy bills give them a prehistoric look. On the water they dip their pouched bills to scoop up fish, or tip-up like an oversized dabbling duck. Sometimes, groups of pelicans work together to herd fish into the shallows for easy feeding. Look for them on inland lakes in summer and near coastlines in winter.


Adults are usually silent. In aggressive and sexual encounters at the colony site, they emit frequent low, brief grunts. Chick embryos squawk before hatching to express discomfort if conditions get too hot or cold. The begging calls (described as a "whining grunt") of hundreds of older young in the colony can be raucous..

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Though American White Pelicans breed at fewer than 60 colonies in total, their large size and propensity to travel large distances, even when breeding, make finding them fairly straightforward. Finding them depends on where you are and what time of the year it is, so check a range map to find out whether you should be looking in inland sites in the north or coastal spots in the south of the continent. When you’re on the lookout for pelicans, don’t just look at the water surface; scan the skies and you may find large flocks of these immense birds soaring inconspicuously very high up. Though they are typically found along coasts in winter, you can also find large numbers in California’s Central Valley, the Salton Sea, and the Colorado River drainage of California and Arizona. Migrants are often noted in spring or fall passing various western hawkwatches, particularly the Smith Point and Hazel Bazemore hawkwatches in Texas.

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Pelican Dreams: The Cornell Lab Movie Review, All About Birds blog, November 5, 2014.



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