Monday, October 30, 2006

Animal of the Week -- October 23, 2006 -- See a bird in another bird's mouth

Well, it's sawhain again, time to cut up some fishnet stockings, pile on the face paint, perfect walking around your house with the lights off to fool the trick-or-treaters into thinking there's no-one at home, and get a pumpkin ready to drive off the malevolent forces that will try to possess you this Tuesday night.

For many a Londoner, the most despicable creature, surely an instrument of the devil and harbinger of ill is the pigeon. Not that we hate pigeons per se (naturally I don't, I love all the animals), but the abundance, omnipresence, and pestilence of these "rats with wings" is a constant reminder of all that is ill with society. There are a few crazies, probably in cahoots with the dark lord, who think that feeding the toeless, tumour-ridden aves will, in some way, help them. It won't, it will just enable them to breed more quickly and so increase the number of sick birds spluttering, stumbling, and dripping on our polluted city streets. Feed them less, they'll breed less, and a smaller population of birds will be healthier and cleaner.

Anyway, last week, the arrival of an unlikely champion in the battle against the number of pigeons (note, not against the birds themselves) appeared: Pelecanus onocrotalus (eastern white pelican, great white pelican). One of the four eastern white pelicans that inhabit Duck Island in the park's lake was photographed snaffling a pigeon. The pelican held its victim in its beak for about 20 minutes before managing to get the pigeon facing head first for the trip to the pelican's belly. Although pelicans are much better known for their consumption of fish, the head first principle of swallowing scaly finny fish also applies to feathery wingy birds.

Now, there have been great hopes for the return of the peregrine falcon to London, and its role in reducing the numbers of pigeons, but I have seen a peregrine make a kill in London, and what did it kill? It killed an ickle starling. Rubbish, let's get in more pelicans.

There have been pelicans in St James' Park since the Russian ambassador gave some as a gift to Charles II in 1664. In less prescriptive times when the birds' wings weren't clipped, one used to nip up to the Regents Park zoo and steal the fish at feeding time. The flaps of skin from pelicans' bills have been used as tobacco pouches and, even more inventively, as sheaths. Fish, baccy, pigeons, members, and spent semen -- truly, a peculiar bird is a pelican, its beak can hold more than its belly can.

Peter Hayward
Head Keeper
Animal of the Week

Monday, October 23, 2006

Animal of the Week -- October 23, 2006

Guess who?! That’s right, it’s me! Hiya!

Just a heads up, you have only a few minutes left to buy your Iceland Air all inclusive tickets for the Sugarcubes’ gig in Reykjavik on November 17, 2006—yes, Bjork will be with them ( Of course if you are a fan of this week’s animal of the week, you might think twice about going to Iceland . This week’s animal of the week is the second biggest animal in the whole wide world Balaenoptera physalus (fin or finback whale), that goes in and out of the harbour.

Although it is the fastest species of whale, reaching speeds of 37 km per hour, one hapless individual was not able to outpace the Icelandic whaling boat that was the first to head out on Iceland ’s resurrected commercial whaling enterprise. The 20 m whale was harpooned in the north Atlantic. I said "Ouch! this really hurts".

Iceland, along with Norway, has decided to resume commercial whaling and will take nine fin whales and 30 minke whales between now and next August, even though the International Whaling Commission still bans the killing whales for non-research purposes. Japan continues to capture whales for scientific research. I will shortly be conducting my own scientific research on an egg sandwich. I’ve got to eat something otherwise I’ll die.

Most estimates put the northern hemisphere population of fin whales at about 5000 and the southern hemisphere population at about 1000 and the species is classified as endangered by the Intenational Union for the Conservation of Nature. Icelandic authorities reckon there are may be as many as 20 000. Quantifying the numbers of ocean animals isn’t the easiest thing, but there may not be plenty more whale in the sea. Fin whales grow to 25 m long and maybe 70 000 kg, they dine on tiny krill (very small shrimp-like animals). Indeed, they don’t really like lobster (like lobster).

Of course if you do find yourself in Iceland and you pass a butcher, you may like to make a purchase, and you'll need to know what to do with it:

Joint of Whale Meat Steeped in Red Wine Marinade
6–8 portions:
1 1/4 kg of whale meat
3 dL red wine
1 dL vegetable oil
3 ground cloves
1/2 tsp coarsly ground pepper
2 tsp of salt
The Marinade
3/4 L juices from the meat
Thickening (milk and flour)
4 dessert spoonfuls of sour cream
It may be a good idea to bind the joint to help it keep in good shape. Place it in a small oven dish and pour the marinade over. Leave the joint there until the next day, turning it at regular intervals. Remove the joint from the dish, dry it well and rub it with salt. Cook the joint until it turns a pleasant brown colour all over, turn down the heat, and add water to reach 2–3 cm up the side of the joint, approx. 3/4 L. Let the joint simmer for about 20 min, turn it over and leave it for another 20 min. Measure enough of the juices to make enough marinade, about 3/4 L. Add the thickening to the marinade, and then the sour cream to taste. Serve with boiled beans or other vegetables, and boiled or fried in the pan.

Ahhh, it’s good to be back.


Peter Hayward
Head Keeper
Animal of the Week