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American White Pelican

Scientific Name:

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos




Freshwater lakes, marshes, and shallow wetlands


North America


Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

This species is


to the Truckee Meadows.


American white pelicans are huge, heavy, white water birds with black flight feathers and long bills for scooping up fish. With a nearly 9-foot wingspan, these birds often soar very high up, seeming to float in circular formation. Unlike the brown pelicans which dive from high above for fish, American white pelicans dip and scoop. Their diet will vary depending on their location and the season, usually consuming a diet of available small fish such as minnows and carp as well as bottom feeders such as crawfish, salamanders, and tadpoles.

Fast Facts:

  • American white pelicans are migratory birds, covering great distances with their massive wingspans. They are native to the Great Plains and up into central Canada as well as the western United States and much of Mexico. While the migratory area of these birds is vast, they prefer only about 60 sites for breeding. Anaho Island on Pyramid lake is one of those primary sites. Anaho island was set aside in 1913 by President Woodrow Wilson to protect and preserve American white pelicans and other native birds.

  • Biologists' field notes from 2011 estimated 8,000 American white pelicans arrived at Pyramid Lake's Anaho Island and produced 2,000 chicks that year. 

  • To raise those chicks to an age when they can forage on their own, American white pelican parents must provide about 150 pounds of food.

  • Pelicans are social and cooperate when feeding; they will circle and drive the fish towards shallow water where they are easier to scoop up.

  • If the developing chick is too hot or cold inside the egg, they will on squawk to express their discomfort.

  • Pyramid Lake’s Anaho Island is a primary breeding ground and while many of the area wetlands and ponds serve as a stopover during migration.



Regina Hockett (research & content)

Alex Shahbazi (edits & page design)

Last Updated:

March 27, 2024 at 1:48:22 AM

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