Species At Risk

American White Pelican

(Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)


American White Pelican
American White Pelican occurrences map


The American White Pelican is a very large bird weighing about 6-7 kg, with white feathers and black wing tips. It has a large orange-yellow bill and pouch, a short, stout tail, webbed feet and a wingspan of up to three metres. Juvenile birds have greyish feathers during their first summer and autumn. This bird usually does not stray far from the water.


American White Pelicans are found across the north-central and western United States. In Canada, they are found from the interior of British Columbia, east to northwestern Ontario. These birds migrate south to the Gulf Coast states and Mexico. Ontario has about 10 per cent of the world’s population of American White Pelicans.


American White Pelicans nest in groups on remote islands that are barren or sparsely treed located in lakes, reservoirs, or on large rivers. Remote islands offer eggs and chicks some protection from predators. Pelicans nest in slight depressions in the ground with sticks and vegetation piled up around them. Their diet is mainly fish.


Changes in water levels can have a major impact on breeding American White Pelicans. High water levels can flood nests whereas low water levels can make nesting colonies susceptible to more predators, such as coyotes, through land-bridges. Disease (e.g., avian botulism and West Nile) and human disturbance are also threats. American White Pelicans are also susceptible to shooting, oil spills and water contamination on their southern wintering grounds.


The American White Pelican and its habitat are protected under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.

What You Can Do to Help the American White Pelican

  • The Ministry of Natural Resources tracks species at risk such as the American White Pelican . You can use a handy online form to report your sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful. nhic.mnr.gov.on.ca
  • Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to 1-877-TIPS-MNR (847-7667).
  • Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
  • Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. You may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
  • Bird Studies Canada is working to advance the understanding, appreciation and conservation of wild birds and their habitat in Ontario and elsewhere. For more information on how you can help, visit: www.bsc-eoc.org.

Did you know?

Unlike other pelicans that drop from high in the sky to catch fish, the American White Pelican simply floats along the water and scoops up fish with its enormous bill.

Did you know?

American White Pelicans can cooperate in small groups to “herd” fish into shallow areas where they can be easily caught.

Did you know?

American White Pelicans are a spectacular sight in flight. They almost always travel in groups and fly gracefully in line or “V” formation, flapping slowly in unison. Though they do not look like they are in a hurry, these birds can reach speeds of 50 kilometres per hour.

Did you know?

American White Pelicans are agile fliers. They can soar very high in the sky (so far that they disappear from sight) and then plummet back to the water.

The Endangered Species Act

Contact your local ministry office

Often the best source of local information on species at risk is your nearest ministry office. Call with your questions or concerns.