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American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

Length: 62 inches Wingspan: 96 to 110 inches Seasonality: Migrant / Summer
ID Keys: Distinctive.  Very large size, all-white with black flight feathers,  distinctive bill. 

American White Pelican - Pelecanus erythrorhynchosThe American White Pelican is one of the largest birds found in South Dakota, and one of the heaviest flying birds in the world.  They are migrants through most of the state, but do nest in some of the northeastern counties.   Unlike their cousins, the Brown Pelican, American White Pelicans do not plunge dive, but feed by dipping their large pouched bill into the water and scooping up fish.  Note the raised bump on the top of the beak (shown in bird to the right, and in many of the photos below) is only present during the breeding season.

Habitat:

Lakes, marshes, rivers.  Nests on isolated islands and sandbars, may feed many miles from nesting site. 

Diet:

Mostly fish, also salamanders and crustaceans. 

Behavior:

Feeds by dipping bill into the water and scooping up prey.  They will often forage together in groups, lining up and driving prey fish to shallower waters for easier capture. While one of the heaviest flying birds, American White Pelicans are graceful in flying, often soaring on thermals in slow, ponderous, spiraling flight.

Nesting:

May through August. American White Pelicans are colonial nesters, usually nesting on isolated islands and sandbars that provide protection from predators. The nest of an American White Pelican is a depression on the ground, with a built-up rim of mud, rocks, and plants.  The female lays 2 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  Incubation lasts about a month, and when the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge at about 10 weeks.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of American White Pelican sightings

Song:

Mostly silent.

Migration:

Winters along Gulf Coast, California, and Mexico.  

Similar Species:

Brown Pelican, in terms of general structure. However, plumage differences are obvious and the two are not likely to be confused with each other if seen well. Surprisingly, the American White Pelican is white, while the Brown Pelican is darker. :-)

Status:

Due to habitat loss and disturbance at nesting colonies, populations declined substantially up through the middle part of the 20th century.  Numbers have increased in the past few decades.  The IUCN lists the American White Pelican as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, American White Pelican

2) Audubon Guide - American White Pelican

3) Whatbird.com: American White Pelican

Photo Information:

April 21st, 2013 -- Lake Vermilion, South Dakota -- Terry L. Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution American White Pelican photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
American White Pelican - Range map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant statewide.  Common summer breeder in the northeastern part of the state, as well as in Bennett County.

American White Pelican Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
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