Wild Guide

By |
From Missouri Conservationist: September 2018

American White Pelican | Pelecanus erythrorhynchos


Transient visitor in summer and winter


62 inches, wingspan 108 inches



These large water birds fly with their heads back on their body, not with their neck extended. Their white body and black wing tips contrast their orange-yellow legs, pouch, and huge bill. Yet, when flying high in formation, they can resemble a flock of much smaller snow geese.
—Mikaya Wallis

Life Cycle

American white pelicans do not breed in Missouri. Rather, their breeding territory ranges from eastern Colorado to Canada’s northwest territories and from the Dakotas to northern
California. They nest in colonies of several hundred pairs, often on islands, which helps them avoid predators. The female usually lays two to three eggs in a depression of gravel or sand.


White pelicans hunt in shallow waters, dipping their heads under water to scoop up fish, crayfish, tadpoles, and other aquatic animals. Pelicans occasionally hunt in groups, herding fish into a school.

Ecosystem Connections

Pelicans help control fish and aquatic populations, and, as ground-nesting birds, they can be prey to predators.

Did You Know?

People persecuted pelicans and many other fish-eating birds, viewing them as competition for game fish. Pesticide-use during the midcentury saw pelican populations dwindle. Outlawing DDT and creating wild-bird reservations in their breeding territories helped save pelicans from extinction.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler