White pelicans are colonial breeders, with up to 5,000 pairs per site. The birds arrive on the breeding grounds in March or April and nesting starts between early April and early June. The nest is a shallow depression scraped in the ground filled with some twigs, sticks, reeds or similar debris that has been gathered. After about one week of courtship and nest-building, the female lays a clutch of usually 2 or 3 eggs.
Both parents incubate for about 4 weeks to one month. The young leave the nest 3–4 weeks after hatching; at this point, usually only one young per nest has survived. They spend the following month in a crèche or "pod", molting into immature plumage and eventually learning to fly. After fledging, the parents care for their offspring some three more weeks, until the close family bond separates in late summer or early fall, and the birds gather in larger groups on rich feeding grounds in preparation for the migration to the winter quarters. They migrate south by September or October.
The American white pelican does not dive for its food. Instead it catches its prey while swimming. American white pelicans like to come together in groups of a handful of birds or so to feed, as they can thus cooperate and chase fish to one another. About 4 pounds of food a day is what these birds usually eat.
Mostly fish such as carp, shiners, perch, catfish, etc, but will also eat crayfish and amphibians