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The American white pelican, which stands about four feet tall and has a wingspan of nine to twelve feet, is one of North America's largest native birds. Only the Trumpeter swan is longer, and only the California condor has a wider wingspan.

The bird is entirely white except for its black-edged wings, which are only visible in flight. It has a long neck, a long orange bill with an expandable pouch, and short orange legs with large webbed feet. It nests in colonies, and during breeding season, its bill turns vivid orange, as do its irises, the bare skin around its eyes, and its feet. It also grows a horn-like "nuptial tubercle" on the top of its bill while breeding, which is plainly seen in the Audubon print at right.

The American white pelican breeds in isolated lakes and wetlands from Manitoba, Canada, and Minnesota west to northern California. In early fall, it migrates to its winter grounds in coastal California, Mexico, Central America, along the Gulf Coast, and in Florida.

American white pelican by John James Audubon
American White Pelican
Robert Havell after John James Audubon for The Birds of America

This recent work by Velda Newman depicts a group of American white pelicans huddled closely together during breeding season. She explains: "While on vacation at the beach in California, I had an opportunity to photograph these wonderful birds. They look almost prehistoric and even comical to some degree. The majority of the texture stitching was done by machine, [but it is] hand quilted."


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View other quilts by Velda Newman

American White Pelicans by Velda Newman

Detail of American White Pelicans by Velda Newman

Toward Barred Island by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade (detail)

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Toward Barred Island by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade (detail)

Bottom left and right: Toward Barred Island (detail) by Gayle Fraas and Duncan Slade