colour photo of the American White Pelican.

Photo: Scott Butner

The American White Pelican is a large white bird with black wing tips. It has a large orange-yellow bill and pouch, a short, stout tail, webbed feet and a wingspan of up to 3 metres. This pelican nests in groups on remote barren or sparsely-treed islands that are located in lakes, reservoirs, or on large rivers.

Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity –the variety of living organisms on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats. As soon as a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened under the ESA, it is automatically protected from harm or harassment. Also, immediately upon listing, the habitats of endangered and threatened species are protected from damage or destruction.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science-based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.

Government response statements

Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The recovery strategy for the American White Pelican was completed on February 18, 2011.

The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. In addition to the strategy, input on the response statement was requested from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and members of the public. The statement reflects the best available traditional, local and scientific knowledge at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.

Moving forward to protect and recover the American White Pelican

The American White Pelican is listed as a threatened species under the ESA, which protects both the animal and its habitat. The ESA prohibits harm or harassment of the species and damage or destruction of its habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.

The American White Pelican range extends throughout much of central and western North America. This population experienced significant declines in the late 1800's due to loss and degradation of habitat and direct persecution by humans aimed to increase fish availability.

The first recorded breeding of this species in Ontario was in 1938. In Ontario, breeding colonies of the American White Pelican are found primarily in Lake of the Woods and Lake Nipigon with smaller colonies occurring along the north shore of Lake Superior. As a colonially nesting species that breeds in close proximity, the American White Pelican is more susceptible to the impacts of potential disease outbreaks, pollution events, flooding and disturbances by humans.

The government’s goal for the recovery of the American White Pelican is to maintain, and allow for the natural increase of, successfully breeding American White Pelicans and colonies in Ontario while minimizing threats to their recovery.

Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities.

In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.

Government-led actions

To help protect and recover the American White Pelican, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • Ensure appropriate timing windows for activities undertaken in and around American White Pelican habitat are considered in the application of the ESA.
  • Educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA.
  • Encourage the submission of American White Pelican observation data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre.
  • Undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario.
  • Protect the American White Pelican and its habitat through the ESA. Develop and enforce a regulation identifying the specific habitat of the species.
  • Support conservation, agency, municipal and industry partners to undertake activities to protect and recover the American White Pelican. Support will be provided through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and advisory services.
  • Establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support across multiple species in order to encourage collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.

Government-supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of the American White Pelican. Actions identified as "high" will be given priority consideration for funding or for authorizations under the ESA. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Monitoring

Objective: Assess changes in the distribution, abundance, and health of American White Pelicans.


  1. (High) Develop and implement a standardized survey and monitoring protocol for American White Pelican colonies to:
    • assess the distribution and abundance of the colonies,
    • quantify reproductive success of colonies in relation to other North American colonies, and
    • Detect changes in health as a result of disease or environmental contamination.

Focus area: Research

Objective: Improve knowledge of American White Pelican habitat, ecology, and threats.


  1. (High) Evaluate existing colonies to improve understanding of what level of tolerance American White Pelicans have for human disturbances adjacent to their breeding colonies.
  2. Compile existing habitat data from across the province to better understand American White Pelican habitat use, selection, and to target survey efforts.
  3. Determine what effects current water level management and natural water levels may be having on American White Pelicans.
  4. Conduct research to gain a better understanding of the dietary preferences and diseases associated with fish consumption.

Focus area: Awareness

Objective: Raise awareness and promote stewardship of American White Pelicans in Ontario.


  1. (High) Develop and provide information to landowners, land managers, and the fishing community to increase awareness and promote protection and recovery of the American White Pelican.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program or Community Fisheries and Wildlife Involvement Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake the project.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.

Reviewing progress

The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify if adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of the American White Pelican.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the "Recovery Strategy for the American White Pelican in Ontario" for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.