Everything You Need To Know About The St James's Park Pelicans

By Zoe Craig Last edited 89 months ago

Last Updated 23 February 2017

Everything You Need To Know About The St James's Park Pelicans

London's parks are oases of hidden treasures, strange traditions and unusual wildlife: here we focus on the latter — the St James's Park pelicans...

Trio of pelicans. Photo by Jenny.

1. They've been there a long time

Like, a really, really long time.

The pelicans were first introduced into St James's Park by a Russian ambassador, who presented them to Charles II in 1664.

Obviously, they're not the same pelicans.

2. They've had some wonderful monikers

In the 1970s there was just one lone pelican, nicknamed 'the Lady of the Lake', although she was actually called Daphne.

Two more from Astrakhan in Russia were called Astra and Khan; a chap called Louis came all the way from Louisiana in 1982; Vaclav was a gift from Prague Zoo in 1995.

3. They've been discussed in the House of Lords

In 1995, the plight of the park pelicans was raised by the (possibly demob happy?) House of Lords, five days before Christmas.

Photo by Dun.can.

Two Eastern European pelicans had recently arrived at the park, and Lord Stoddart questioned the conditions the birds were living in, given than in 300 years, there had not been a single pelican born to the St James's Park birds.

"Is it kind to import those pelicans and so deny them a normal life with a mate, including the patter of tiny webbed feet?" Stoddart asked.

Lord Inglewood was able to confirm that pelicans tend not to produce fertile eggs unless they are part of a larger flock of a minimum of about 10 birds. "As for the nature of the community in which pelicans live, it is similar to that experienced in monasteries and nunneries," he concluded.

You can read the full debate here.

4. Today trio of pelicans

Today, there are three pelicans in the park.

Three in a row. Photo by Dave Pearce.

Gargi was donated to the park in 1996, after he was found by a member of the public in a garden in Southend.

The younger two are Great White females called Tiffany and Isla. They arrived as a gift from Prague in 2013; part of the funding for the pair came from The Tiffany and Co Foundation in New York, hence one of their names. Isla was named by public vote.

5. Yes, they've been known to eat the occasional pigeon

One of the pelicans caused a bit of a stir in October 2006, when it was photographed swallowing a pigeon.

It turns out such behaviour isn't unusual.

A spokeswoman for the Royal Parks, Louise Wood, admitted the birds did sometimes stray from their more natural menu choices of fish.

"Nature is cruel. These birds will naturally devour other items that appear food-like to them - in this case, a pigeon."

6. They're fed at the same time each day

And you can go and watch: head to Duck Island Cottage between 2.30pm and 3pm each day.

Photo by John Morrill.

The pelicans' favourite foods are mackerel, herring and whiting; you'll often see the birds looking out for the wildlife officer every day at feeding time. The birds can eat up to 2kg of fish a day.

Although rumour has it, one of them preferred to pinch fish from the nearby London Zoo for his lunch. Greedy.

7. They aren't the strangest creatures to have lived in St James's Park

Back in James I's time, there were crocodiles, camels and even elephants in the park.

Bonus fact: the collective noun for pelicans is a 'scoop'.

Are you a big fan of the St James's Park pelicans? Don't miss the park's Pelican Walking Tour on 24 March. Tickets just £5.