Under ten minutes’ walk from Hotel 41, St James’s Park is located between Buckingham Palace and The Mall and Horse Guards Parade. As well as being a popular picnic destination, in the past the park’s 57 acres have been home to some surprisingly exotic residents, including elephants and crocodiles during the reign of King James I. The St James’s Park pelicans were introduced during the mid 1600s, and whilst the elephants and crocodiles are long gone, these characterful birds remain.
The pelicans have an impressively long history in St James’s Park; they first arrived in 1664, when they were gifted to King Charles II by the then Russian ambassador. Since then, the pelicans have become long-term, much loved residents of the park, with new generations of birds added over the years. Well settled in their urban habitat, if you manage to spot one, they’re a delightful and unusual sight to behold.
Since the 17th century, new pelicans have arrived from all over the world – such as Vaclav, who arrived from Prague Zoo in 1995 – and much thought goes into the naming of each bird. In the 1970s, the sole pelican inhabit of the park was a bird named Daphne, who was affectionately known as ‘the Lady of the Lake,’ whilst two arrivals from Astrakhan in Russia were called after their homeland, Astra and Khan.
A Political History
The long-term residency of the St James’s Park pelicans has even been taken up as a political matter by the House of Lords. In 1995, Lord Stoddart raised the question of why there had never been a single offspring born to the St James’s park birds, whilst Lord Inglewood explained that pelicans usually need to belong to a larger flock of birds in order to produce fertile eggs. Hence why the small group of pelicans in the park had not reproduced and would be unlikely to do so.
Currently, three pelicans reside in the park. Gargi arrived in 1996, having been found in a garden in Southend. He was then joined by Tiffany and Isla in 2013, two female birds given as a gift from Prague. Tiffany takes her name from The Tiffany and Co Foundation, which was partly responsible for her funding, whilst Isla’s name was the result of a public vote.
A Carnivorous Diet
For the most part, the St James’s Park pelicans subsist on a fish based diet, which they are fed every day between 2.30pm-3pm by one of the parks’ Wildlife Officers at Duck Island Cottage. Their foods of choice are typically whiting, herring and mackerel, but they’ve also been known, very occasionally, to be partial to pigeon.