Common Name: American White Pelican
Scientific Name: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Description: The American white pelican rivals the trumpeter swan, with a similar overall length, as one of the longest birds native to North America. Both very large and plump. The plumage is almost entirely bright white, except for the black primary and secondary remiges, which are hardly visible except in flight. From early spring until after breeding has finished in mid-late summer, the breast feathers have a yellowish hue. After moulting into the eclipse plumage, the upper head often has a grey hue, as blackish feathers grow between the small wispy white crest.
The bill is huge and flat on the top, with a large throat sac below, and, in the breeding season, is vivid orange in color as is the iris, the bare skin around the eye, and the feet. In the breeding season, there is a laterally flattened “horn” on the upper bill, located about one-third the bill’s length behind the tip. This is the only one of the eight species of pelican to have a bill “horn”. The horn is shed after the birds have mated and laid their eggs. Outside the breeding season, the bare parts become duller in color, with the naked facial skin yellow and the bill, pouch, and feet an orangy-flesh color.
Distribution: American white pelicans nest in colonies of several hundred pairs on islands in remote brackish and freshwater lakes of inland North America. The most northerly nesting colony can be found on islands in the rapids of the Slave River between Fort Fitzgerald, Alberta, and Fort Smith, Northwest Territories. They winter on the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts from central California and Florida south to Costa Rica, and along the Mississippi River at least as far north as St. Paul, Minnesota. In winter quarters, they are rarely found on the open seashore, preferring estuaries, bays, and lakes.
Habitat: Unlike the brown pelican (P. occidentalis), the American white pelican does not dive for its food. Instead, it catches its prey while swimming. Each bird eats more than 4 pounds of food a day. In Las Vegas you will see this bird most commonly in the Las Vegas Wash and Lake Mead, due to the presence of large fish as opposed to the misquote fish at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve.