Sep 10, 2018

American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

By Chris Bellin

The American white pelican is an extremely large water bird with a wingspan approaching 8 feet.

They are mostly white with black flight feathers on the wings and a rather short, squared off tail. Unlike their brown cousins, they primarily feed by scooping fish with their large bill or dipping their head like a puddle duck. They also feed cooperatively by herding fish to the shallows where they all get to eat.

The Badger State is on the eastern side of the pelican breeding grounds. Breeding is in the spring and the female lays her eggs on the ground or in a shallow nest. Although she usually lays two eggs, only one of the chicks typically survives as the stronger of the two will kill the other.

Unlike most song birds, white pelicans can only have one brood per year and it takes more than five months for the young to fledge. If you see them early in the breeding season, they will have a horn on their bill which is shed once breeding and egg laying is over.

On land they are clumsy, but when soaring they are majestic and sometimes will soar in large flocks.


Chris Bellin is from Oshkosh. In addition to being a Master Gardener, he is an avid outdoorsman. He enjoys fishing, turkey and waterfowl hunting, bow and gun hunting. Chris is passionate about birding, especially photographing them.