The Russians sent “carnivorous” pelicans to London during the Cold War
For 360 years there have been pelicans in St James’s Park.
When they were first introduced to Charles II by the Czar of Russia in the 1660s, Londoners crowded into the park to spot these strange and exotic creatures.
Sadly, by the 1970s, the disease had reduced the park’s pelican population to one – her name was Daphne and she was nicknamed “the Lady of the Lake.”
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Although things were tense with Russia as the UK and US were in the midst of the Cold War, the UK government nonetheless approached them and asked if they could perhaps provide them with a few more pelicans. .
The Russians, rather graciously, agreed.
But when the pelicans arrived, stories began to circulate of them devouring other birds in the park.
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Songbirds and wood pigeons were, according to the newspapers, disappearing into their large bulging throats.
The stories weren’t generally believed because everyone knows pelicans aren’t carnivores – was that just anti-Russian propaganda, maybe? Pelicans are fed almost five and a half kilograms of fish a day, plus a vitamin supplement – surely they would not need to resort to consuming pigeons?
But while the proof was hard to come by at first, the stories did not end.
It was not until 2006 that Press Association photographer Cathal McNaughton took a picture of an unlucky pigeon beating its last stroke from inside a pelican’s mouth.
He said he kept the bird in his beak for 20 minutes before swallowing it whole.
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Even though similar stories had been circulating for over 30 years, an RSPB spokesperson said of the incident: “It is almost unheard of for a pelican to eat a bird. His diet should be strictly fish.
The photo grabbed the headlines, sparking more stories from readers.
Some described how they saw them filling their water bills to drown their fresh catch – others claimed to have even seen them munching on ducks.
Other photos have emerged, of course – and a video taken in 2013 by a visitor is particularly hard to dispute.
Birds living in close contact with humans are more likely to stray from their natural diet, becoming opportunistic in their diet.