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Last Updated: Monday, 30 October 2006, 17:16 GMT
Pelican's pigeon meal not so rare
By James Clarke
BBC News

A pelican who found himself in the news after scooping up and eating a pigeon in a London park may not have been behaving as unusually as it first seemed.

The pelican's snacking antics made headlines when he was caught on camera by a professional photographer snapping wildlife pictures in St James's Park.

The RSPB said it was "almost unheard of" for a pelican to eat a bird, with their diet usually being strictly fish.

But it has emerged that pelicans scoffing birds may not be as rare an occurrence as first believed.

'Bit of struggling'

Pelicans have lived in the park - near Buckingham Palace - for more than 300 years, having been introduced when the Russian ambassador presented some to King Charles II in 1664.

There are currently five pelicans living in the 58 acre (23 hectare) park, all bred in captivity, four of them from eastern Europe and one from Louisiana in the US.

They are fed 12lb (5.4kg) of fish a day, plus a vitamin supplement, with the daily afternoon feeding time advertised as a visitor attraction.

Pelicans in St James's Park
Five pelicans live at St James's Park's Duck Island

The Eastern White pelican who had a pigeon for lunch made the front page of national newspapers as well as being reported by the BBC, after being snapped by Press Association photographer Cathal McNaughton.

The coverage on the BBC News website - which was among last week's most-read stories on the site - prompted a number of emails from readers saying they had seen pelicans eat birds in the park before.

Alex Worrall said he saw a pelican in the park eat a duck about 20 years ago, while John Stather said he saw two of the birds eat pigeons at the same time six years ago.

Mr Stather said: "First of all one pelican grabbed a pigeon, and then one of the others did exactly the same.

Nature is cruel - it's quite hard to control what is the natural instinct of chase and feed
Louise Wood, Royal Parks spokeswoman

"There was a bit of struggling and the pelicans filled their bills with water to drown or wash the pigeon down.

"So it has clearly happened before and presumably will again."

A film of a pelican eating a pigeon, posted on the internet before last week's incident, can be seen on a number of video-sharing websites, appearing to back-up their claims.

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

She said: "These birds will naturally devour other items that appear food-like to them - in this case, a pigeon.

Squirrel eating an ice cream in St James's Park
Other park wildlife has been known to stray from its normal menu too

"Although the RSPB is correct in stating that the main diet of pelicans is fish in the wild, birds used to human contact tend to be much more opportunistic.

"We don't have figures for how often it happens, but it can happen.

"Having chatted with those that are in close contact with the pelicans, they say their behaviour is very different when they are in this sort of semi-urban environment to when they are in the wild.

"They can eat birds, or possibly left over dinners - so we do particularly ask that people don't feed the pelicans or the pigeons."

Ms Wood apologised to anyone distressed by the pelican eating the pigeon and said the park had never had to get rid of a bird which had eaten the wrong thing.

"Were they regarded as a danger to the public it would be a different matter.

"But nature is cruel - it's quite hard to control what is the natural instinct of chase and feed."

Pelican swallows pigeon in park
25 Oct 06 |  London
Escaped pelican perched in tree
20 Sep 06 |  Suffolk
Pelican on extended Scots holiday
19 Sep 06 |  Tayside and Central


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