American White Pelican
(Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)


Picture of bird
© Andrew A Reding - License
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

A colonial water bird dependent on remote lake islands for nesting sites, over half of the North American population of American White Pelican breeds at a few principal sites in Canada (Peck 2007b). The breeding range in Canada has recently expanded beyond the Prairies to include the western Great Lakes (Lake Michigan, northwest Lake Superior) and Lake Nipigon. After an important decrease in the first half of the 20th century largely attributed to human activity (Peck 2007b), results from the Breeding Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Count show a strong increase in abundance since about 1970. With such a large percentage of the global breeding population, Canada's responsibility for the American White Pelican is very high. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Not at Risk1987 
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Secure2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge IncreaseHighAt an Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada100,000 - 200,000 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery High

Conservation and management

Until the 1960s, the American White Pelican suffered declines and range contractions linked to a range of human impacts. Hunting, flooding or drainage of water basins, disturbance of breeding and foraging sites by recreational activities, and pesticide contamination have all contributed to increased mortality and abandonment of nesting sites (Knopf and Evans 2004). Conservation efforts, reduced contaminant levels, and habitat protection likely contributed to the reversal in population trend. However, since birds are concentrated at nesting colonies during the breeding season, the species is particularly vulnerable to factors that can influence productivity such as human disturbance, changes in water levels, weather events, contaminants, and disease outbreaks (Knopf and Evans 2004, Sovada et al. 2008, Hamilton 2016, Jackson et al. 2016).


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Boreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Hardwood Transition, sub-region and priority type: Ontario and Manitoba -- Conservation
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Ontario -- Conservation
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation
Boreal Taiga PlainsBoreal Taiga Plains, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation
Great BasinGreat Basin, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Other
Northern RockiesNorthern Rockies, sub-region and priority type: Pacific and Yukon -- Stewardship
Prairie PotholesPrairie Potholes, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Other