American White Pelican

The pelican is a fish-eater, but what’s great about the pelican is that it eats fish that are of little commercial value, leaving the good-eating fish for us humans. And, the pelican is perfectly adapted for catching the 4 pounds of fish it needs each day. Its big pouched bill acts as a dip net that can scoop up 3 gallons of water along with whatever fish were caught. This bird doesn’t dive to catch fish, but scoops them up while swimming. The pelican then squeezes the water out the corners of its mouth and swallows the fish whole. Sometimes pelicans will hunt cooperatively, encircling fish, then herding them into shallow waters.

Although the white pelican is not endangered, there are some concerns about pesticide use and the thinning of the pelican’s eggshells. The greatest cause of mortality for a pelican is shooting—sometimes being mistaken for a snow goose and sometimes thought to compete for game fish contrary to evidence. Red fox and coyotes are natural predators.

American White Pelican

Pelecanus erythiorhynchas

Habitat: Central regions of the North American continent to coasts

Diet in the wild: Fish

Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Silver fish, smelt

Size: 50-70 inches with a wingspan of 8-9½ feet; 10-17 pounds

Family: Roosts in large flocks of few to several hundred pairs

Status: Least Concern; numbers increasing

Did you know? This is the largest bird native to North America

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