American White Pelicans Are Welcome Visitors

The American white pelican will catch your eye because of its snowy white feathers and bright orange feet and bills.

An American white pelican on the water. (Photo courtesy of Eileen Capodice)

The birds don’t live in Illinois all year, but you still have plenty of opportunities to see them. They stop in Will County twice a year, in the spring and fall. In the spring, they stop over on their migration to their breeding grounds in the western U.S. and central Canada. In the fall, they visit again on their way to their wintering grounds in the south.


Fun Facts

  • American white pelicans are big birds, and they are probably taller than you! They stand between 4 feet and 5½ feet tall, and their wingspan is 9 feet.

  • These pelicans are heavy too, at least for a bird. They only weigh about 14 pounds, but that’s a lot in the bird world. A robin weighs less than half a pound, and a mallard duck usually weighs less than 3 pounds.

  • These birds are all white when they are at rest, but when they are flying you can see that they have black feathers on the underside of their wings.

  • Small fish are almost all pelicans eat, but they also sometimes eat crayfish, tadpoles and salamanders. When they are looking for fish, they often dip their whole heads under water.

  • The bright orange bill of a pelican can hold 3 gallons of water!

  • A lot of people think pelicans store extra food in their bills, but they never do. They use their bills to scoop up water. They tip their heads forward to drain the water from their bills, and toss their heads back to eat the fish that remain.

  • The American white pelican is one of eight kinds of pelicans in the world. Only two live in the United States. The other is the brown pelican, but it is only found along the coasts in the southern U.S.

  • Pelicans are always around water, which makes sense because they eat so many fish. In Will County, a good place to catch a glimpse of them is McKinley Woods – Kerry Sheridan Grove in Channahon. They visit the preserve each spring and fall.