American white pelican, photo by Alan D. Wilson / Wikimedia Commons.

American White Pelican

This huge white bird (with a nine-foot wingspan!) has black flight feathers, and a large yellow-orange bill making it hard to mistake for any other bird. Often found in flocks both while foraging on the surface of shallow lakes, and when soaring high overhead.

Listen For

Not very vocal, except in breeding colonies where white pelicans utter low croaking grunts.


During the spring and summer white pelicans are found in large breeding colonies, usually on islands in large inland lakes. They range far from the colonies to forage on shallow lakes and marshes. They spend winters along the coasts from Florida to Texas, and in southern California. Learn more in our travel section »


The white pelican differs in a few important ways from its cousin the brown pelican. The white pelican forages by swimming in cooperative flocks, herding schools of fish to waiting, open bills. The brown pelican dives for its food, much like a kingfisher or osprey. White Pelicans are inland nesters while brown pelicans are closely associated with coastal saltwater.


A white pelican’s pouch can hold more than 2.5 gallons of water when full. Imagine holding that much water in your throat. Now imagine all that water full of flopping, squirming fish!

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