The Three White Pelicans of St. James’s Park

White Pelicans in St James's Park, LondonWhile strolling through St. James’s Park in London, conveniently located just east of Buckingham Palace, I spotted a cluster of people near several long-necked, white birds. I assumed, incorrectly, that these big birds were swans. That was, at least, until I saw their bills. I then knew what they were even though I’d never seen a white pelican before.

Growing up on the California coast, I’ve seen my share of brown pelicans. A joy to tourists and bird enthusiasts, but not generally so beloved by the fishermen and fishmongers. I remember hearing as a child about brown pelicans starving to death because someone had sawed off their top bills. My understanding at the time was that a local organization had stepped in and created replacement bills for the injured pelicans. Today, as I researched for this post, I discovered that attempts had been made to surgically replace the bills of 23 pelicans with fiberglass replicas, but the surgeries failed when the bones to which the bills were attached deteriorated.  (Associated Press, “Pelicans Losing War With California Fishermen,” Nashua Telegraph, 9 Dec. 1983: 44).

I recall all the other stories I’d heard growing up of injuries inflicted on the “pesky pelicans”  and wonder if the birds in California are still being subjected to such cruelty. I looked at the beautiful, white birds before me and thought of what a different life they must lead.

White Pelicans in St James's Park, LondonThese three white pelicans are all that live in the park, but white pelicans have been residents of the park, living near Duck Island, since their introduction in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador. Two of the birds are Eastern (or Great) White Pelicans; the other is a South American White Pelican, which is distinguished by different coloring and a crest on its bill. Here, you can see the black feathers on one wing of the bird at the back.

White Pelicans in St James's Park, LondonAnd here you can see how much more orange the South American White Pelican’s bill and feet are.

White Pelican in St James's Park, LondonIf you happen to be in the park any day between 2:30 pm and 3:00 pm, you might see the birds getting fed fresh fish. The rest of the time, you might spot them walking around or sunning on a rock.

White Pelicans in St James's Park, LondonYou might even see them mingling with the crowd. After all, they’re gregarious, social creatures.

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About satnavandcider

An American expat living in England, exploring the United Kingdom and Europe through five senses and a camera lens.
This entry was posted in All Posts, Animals, London and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Three White Pelicans of St. James’s Park

  1. avian101 says:

    Very good post! 🙂

  2. Vicky says:

    What lovely photos 🙂 and an interesting story to the pelicans.

  3. One of my favourite parks….thank you so much for sharing…snaps are beautiful…well done!!!

  4. leiah says:

    Nice post. Interesting about the attempted surgeries on the Cali birds!

    • satnavandcider says:

      Thanks, leiah. I’m glad they tried to save the birds, but less happy to learn that the surgeries were ultimately unsuccessful. I remember hearing about the attempts and I guess I just always assumed the surgeries worked. I kind of wish I didn’t know differently.

  5. That park used to be a regular haunt of mine before I left London. But are you sure there are only 3 pelicans now? There used to be absolutely loads of them. What happened to them?

    • satnavandcider says:

      I got the information about the pelicans from the Royal Parks website (link in post) and it does say that there are only three white pelicans living in the park. I don’t know what happened to the others and didn’t find any other information during my research for the post.

      • I did a lot of searching after posting my messages, as it was bugging me. I found out there were 7 pelicans in 2006 and more than a dozen in 2003, when I was last living in London. It seems they have been gradually dying and are not breeding or being replenished. Which is very sad.
        I found out they did bring in a large number of new ones in the 1950s when the same thing happened. So perhaps they’ll do that again?
        I just wonder how hard it would be to create the right conditions for the pelicans to breed there?

        • satnavandcider says:

          Wow. Thank you for posting what you found. I had no idea that the population declined so rapidly. From over a dozen to three in less than 10 years? I, too, hope their caretakers figure out how to breed them successfully and restore the population. They (and the people watching them) were so interesting to watch. It would be such a shame if they were to die out.

  6. love the pelicans, went to the park a few weeks back. Have you ever been to feed the squirrels in the park?….great thing to do with kids

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