While 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.
These 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.