My fascination with the pelicans in St James’s Park continues! I managed a short visit on Friday afternoon after an appointment at Guy’s Hospital. It’s so therapeutic after you’ve just had to hear more bad news. I was expecting it really, no big shocks but disappointing all the same. So from having to keep my own mouth wide open for the dental conservative consultant, I went to see a much more impressive wide mouth!
The bare skin on the lower mandible of the pelican is known as the gular pouch. There are other birds with gular skin but the pelican has the largest. The lower mandible expands to open the pouch allowing it to scoop it’s prey from the water. As the mandible contracts, water is expelled from the bill and the bird can then tilt its head to let the fish slide down the gullet. The gular pouch actually has a larger capacity than the pelicans stomach! You may have heard the rhyme by Dixon Merritt: “Oh, what a wondrous bird is the pelican! His bill holds more than his belican. He can take in his beak enough food for a week. But I’m darned if I know how the helican.” In fact, any surplass food is actually stored in the oesophagus!
Despite all the wet weather we’ve had this month, some days are just golden! I visited St James’s Park in London last Wednesday and discovered that the flock of pelicans has doubled in size. There are now six of these magnificent birds living in the park. They were glorious to watch in the Autumn light with the rich colours of foliage on Duck Island behind them. It was lovely to see lots of people enjoying the space, feeding birds and squirrels, warming up in the cafe, having a family outing with the kids or just sitting under a tree, getting lost in a good book.
Another week, another royal park! This time it’s the smallest and oldest, St James’s Park. Set in front of Buckingham Palace, the park was originally created by Henry VIII as a hunting ground. Later, it was redesigned by Charles II and became home to the first, royal Great White (or Rosy) Pelicans. They were a gift to the King from the Russian Ambassador in 1664 and the park has been a home to pelicans ever since.
St James’s has a fascinating history that has really left it’s mark on the area. Charles II had avenues of trees planted alongside his Paile Maile (similar to croquet) lawns. Locals started calling the main road alongside these lawns Pall Mall and the nickname stuck. The King opened the park to the public and was a frequent visitor, feeding the ducks and mingling with his subjects. He filled the park with animals including camels, elephants and crocodiles and built a row of aviaries for his collection of exotic birds. The adjacent roadway gained the name Birdcage Walk. People still gather here to feed the birds and a few exotics have returned, the ring-necked parakeets!
John Nash redesigned the park in the 19th Century. The original canal was transformed into a natural-looking lake and in 1837 the Ornithological Society of London presented the park with a collection of birds and erected a cottage for a birdkeeper. Both the cottage and the position of birdkeeper remain to this day. Duck Island cottage is where you will find the pelicans being fed every day between 14:30 and 15:00. There are also around 15 species of waterfowl living on the lake.
Exploring this lovely little park was just the tonic I needed on Friday afternoon after another disappointing appointment at Guy’s Hospital. The day may have started out negatively but I turned it into something very positive! Another busy Monday ahead so I am putting my pelican into all three Monday challenges. Have a great week everyone!