American white pelican.
Tourism Saskatchewan

The American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of eight pelican species in the world and the only species found in Saskatchewan. It belongs to the family Pelecanidae of the order Pelecaniformes, characterized by fully webbed (totipalmate) feet and a large beak with a throat pouch. The white pelican is one of the largest birds in North America, with a wingspan of up to 3 m and weighing up to 7.75 kg. These graceful fliers nest on isolated islands which protect them from mammalian predators and human disturbance. They are colonial nesters and usually lay two eggs (range one to four) in a nest that is not much more than a shallow depression in the ground. Their diet consists mainly of fish, which they capture individually or through a co-operative effort: a few birds will form a semicircle and slowly swim towards shore while beating their wings and herding their prey towards shallower water; in unison they dip their bill and catch any fish that swim into it. The bill of all pelicans, unique to the bird world, has a distensible throat pouch that can hold up to 13.5 litres. The pouch is not only used as a dip net to catch fish, but acts as a cooling device when this bare skin is fluttered.

Pelicans were reported nesting in Saskatchewan as early as 1879. In 1978, declining numbers resulted in the American white pelican being listed as a threatened species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Through protective legislation and public education pelican numbers increased, and in 1987 it became the first species to be “delisted” by COSEWIC.

Keith Roney

Further Reading

Alsop, F.J., III. 2002. Birds of Canada. New York: Dorling Kindersley; Macoun, John. 1900. Catalogue of Canadian Birds, Part I: Water Birds, Gallinaceous Birds, and Pigeons. Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada.