American White Pelican

American White Pelican

One of the largest birds in North America, the American White Pelican eclipses most other birds on the continent with its massive 9-foot wingspan. The White Pelican is a snow white water bird that is related to the Brown Pelican but with some noticeable differences in habitats and behaviours.

Pelican in Alberta Canada

I had the opportunity to observe a White Pelican while out scouting for beavers a few minutes from where I live and thought this would be a good time to talk about these fascinating birds.

As mentioned earlier, they are one of the largest birds found in North America and are also considerably larger than the only other species in the same family, the Brown Pelican. Like the name suggests, the White Pelican is predominantly...well...white. The primary and secondary flight feathers are black but these can only be easily seen when the wings are outstretched, so while the bird is flying or stretching its wings. The feet and bill of the mature breeding adults is bright orange which creates a beautiful contrast to the white of the body. One unique feature this bird has that the Brown Pelican doesn't is the crest that grows on the bill of the breeding adults. If you have a theory as to why this crest grows, please make a comment below.

American White Pelican

The birds winter in the southern states of the US, from California to southern Arizona. Some make it as far as Central Mexico as well. During the Summer, however, they migrate and breed as far north as the western provinces of Canada (BC, Alberta and Sask) and the northern states of the US like Washington. They are common visitors to my little corner of the Province of Alberta in the summer and I enjoy watching them when I get the chance.

The adults tend to spend their time around inland freshwater sources like rivers or lakes. They like to lay their ends on islands where the predator count is minimal. Due to this habit, the effect of mammalian predators is minimised but they still have to watch out for other birds that can easily reach the islands where they breed. Some of these birds are large corvids like Ravens as well as other birds like gulls. If the island where the birds are breeding is accessible to mammals, then coyotes and foxes become more of a nuisance too.

Stretching American White Pelican

The individual spotted on this trip out was a juvenile. This can be seen by the mottled feathers on the head and the distinct lack of crest on the front of the bill.

Looking forward to our next spotting!

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