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


Post a Comment

<< Home