Prepared by the American White Pelican Recovery Team

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) was assessed by the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario (COSSARO) as threatened in 2009, a re–assessment in status that reflects the species' expanding range and population in Ontario. American White Pelican were formerly classified as endangered.

Range expansion of this migratory bird within Ontario, and the establishment of new breeding colonies, has contributed to improved population viability; however, threats to recovery persist, namely susceptibility to disease and human disturbance and/or harassment. Other threats include predation, vulnerability to water level extremes and exposure to pollution/contaminants on wintering grounds.

American White Pelicans make use of an array of freshwater and marine environments such as rivers, lakes, marshes and estuaries for foraging grounds in both summer and winter habitats. All American White Pelicans breeding in Ontario seem to require habitats with isolated breeding islands remote from disturbance and access to an adequate source of prey.

Aspects of American White Pelican biology make it vulnerable to significant and immediate population declines and potential extirpation from Ontario. In Ontario, American White Pelicans are at the northeastern edge of their range; however, what limits them to their current range is unknown. As a colonially nesting species, American White Pelicans concentrate and breed in close proximity, enabling rapid disease transmission. Human disturbance, through either deliberate persecution or inquisitive interest, can result in offspring mortality or colony abandonment. Among colonial nesting species, American White Pelicans are considered highly sensitive to disturbance. Some breeding sites in Ontario have been in long–term continual use since colony establishment. Site fidelity of individual birds remains unknown; however, recent genetic evidence indicates high levels of gene flow among colonies, suggesting low levels of natal site fidelity and high levels of dispersal. This is an important finding as it provides evidence that American White Pelicans in Ontario are part of a single meta– population that ranges over all or most of North America.

While the number of breeding locations of American White Pelican has increased in recent years, the fundamental threats to recovery remain.

Through the development of this recovery strategy, knowledge gaps were identified.

Fundamentally, the gaps are of two kinds: first, there is a lack of information on American White Pelican abundance and distribution in Ontario; second, threats to the species have not been quantified.

The goal of the strategy is to maintain, and allow for the increase of, successfully breeding American White Pelicans at colonies in Ontario while minimizing threats to their recovery.

This goal recognizes the importance of recovery of American White Pelican within the historical range of this mid–continent affiliated species, while acknowledging and affording recovery consideration to new colonies beyond what is believed to be their historic distribution. Sustaining an adequate number of well–distributed breeding colonies will minimize the likelihood of extirpation from Ontario by buffering negative impacts at any one breeding site, should they occur. Recovery objectives are as follows:

  1. identify and protect occupied and newly identified nesting habitat of the American White Pelican;
  2. identify, and where feasible, reduce or eliminate known threats to the American White Pelican population in Ontario and its habitat;
  3. raise awareness and promote stewardship of American White Pelicans;
  4. inventory/assess the population status and monitor spatial trends of American White Pelicans; and,
  5. ensure there is consistent, comprehensive, and up–to–date provincial information on the American White Pelican so that population status can be monitored, assessed and re–evaluated as required.

The most sensitive and critically important aspect of American White Pelican ecology is associated with breeding; and for this reason many of the recovery approaches presented in this recovery strategy are intended to address threats to nesting colonies. Broad social acceptance of American White Pelican is required to ensure success, and is best addressed through education.

The recovery team recommends that the area prescribed as habitat in a regulation for American White Pelican includes breeding colonies (areas with eggs and active parental attendance) and a protective setback of 300 m to accommodate areas used for parental care and behavioural learning. Based on an estimated lifespan of 26 years, it is recommended that the prescribed area is included in regulation until such time that there is no record of nesting activity for one full generation, or 26 years.