American White Pelican, Pelicanus erithrorhynchos


American White Pelican
American White Pelicans winter in large numbers in and around San Francisco Bay, where a few of their cousins, the Brown Pelicans,
can also be found. Along the ocean shore, resident Brown Pelicans are much more common than American Whites. The Whites nest in some fifty large colonies on inland lakes in the prairie and basin states and provinces of the US and Canada; they depart from their wintering grounds starting in February, and return starting in July.


American White Pelican
An American White taking a bath.


American White Pelican
One coming in for a landing.


American White Pelican
Hitting the water.

American White Pelicans
Above and below: while Brown Pelicans mostly dive for fish from above, White Pelicans forage at the surface, usually in small to mid-sized groups, often herding fish into a confined space where they can more easily catch them.


American White Pelicans

American White Pelican
Above, head-on view of pelican with just-caught fish sideways in its large bill pouch;
below, same pelican seconds later, swallowing the fish.

American White Pelican
Above and below, two views of White Pelicans each with a captured fish in the large pouch.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican
Above and below, White Pelicans in late February when these birds begin to leave for their inland nesting grounds; at this time they show more red in the bill, develop a prominent bump on the upper mandible, and grow more or less prominent plumes on the head. The bird above may be "Hank," a pelican (female, despite the name) whose an injured wing prevents her from migrating to the nesting grounds, making her a permanent resident of Lake Merritt in Oakland. Her sex is established by size; she's notably smaller than males, as can readily be seen in some winters when a few White Pelicans of both sexes join all-year resident Hank. Both sexes develop the bump in breeding season.

American White Pelican
White Pelicans in flight, seen close up, above in breeding plumage in February, below returned in July, with breeding season past.

American White Pelican


American White Pelicans
American White Pelicans are often seen flying over land in large flocks during
their spring and fall migrations; I've seen them crossing the Sierras in July on
their way back from nesting to their coastal wintering grounds.


American White Pelicans
Above, a flock of breeding plumage White Pelicans in Palo Alto near where I live in May; this is about as late as they depart for their nesting grounds

American White Pelicans
Part of the large flocks, often reaching several hundred birds, that gather during winter in the ponds of Edwards NWR at the south end of San Francisco Bay.