American White Pelican – Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

These guys were spotted during our trip to Trempealeau National Wildlife Preserve, just outside the town of Trempealaeu, Wisconsin, on the Mississippi River. This preserve was established in 1936, and has grown to its current size of 6,446 acres. These pools are spring fed and overflow into the Mississippi. We saw so many birds we’ve never seen before. Bald eagles, cormorants, various ducks I couldn’t identify along with many songbirds. This area is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System whose mission is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management, and where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.


Kayaking allowed us to get pretty close!


The American White Pelican and Grey Pelican (P. occidentalis), are the only two species of pelican in North America. These well known birds are all white except for its black-edged wings that are visible in flight. They have long necks, a large orange bill with an expandable pouch and short orange legs with big webbed feet. These birds are one of the world’s largest birds, weighing in as much as 30 lbs (14 kg) and wingspans of 9 feet (3 M).

  • Unlike Brown Pelicans, who dive for their food, American White Pelicans swim and scoop their bills into the water for theirs. Birds often cooperate when feeding. They coordinate their swimming to force schooling fish into the shallows, where the pelicans can easily scoop up the corralled fish.
  • American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants are often found nesting together. They sometimes hunt together (though they mainly seek out different fish and at different depths).
  • Pelicans are excellent food thieves. They have been seen stealing from other pelicans trying to swallow a large fish. They also try to steal prey from Cormorants that are bringing fish to the surface.
  • Pelican chicks can crawl by 1 – 2 weeks of age. By 3 weeks they can walk with their body off the ground and can swim as soon as they can get to the water, and by the age of 9 to 10 weeks, they can fly.
  • They forage almost exclusively by day on their wintering grounds, however during breeding season, they commonly forage during the night. Even though it’s hard to see, nighttime foraging tends to result in larger fish being caught.

Β© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

45 thoughts on “American White Pelican – Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

    • That’s hilarious! “Tanks of the Sky”. So true!
      I’ve only interacted with the brown ones in Florida. I rarely fish, but when northern guests came down, that’s the first thing they wanted to do. When we got back to the dock, the pelicans would be waiting there patiently, like begging dogs, while we gutted the fish. We would toss the innards to them and they were great catchers with that big basket on their beaks πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

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