Skip to main content

Pelicans In St James's Park

Volume 491: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many pelicans there are in St. James's Park; and of this number how many are males and how many females.

My Lords, there are five pelicans in St. James's Park. Your Lordships may be as surprised as I was to learn that it is particularly difficult for humans to determine the sex of pelicans, and so I fear we do not know the sexes of the pelicans in the park.

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend for that explicit Answer? I hope that the investigations that he has had to undertake have not proved excessively laborious or too indelicate. Does it not give him satisfaction in these days, when there is considerable concern about the invasion of privacy that, if I may paraphrase his reply correctly, the only person who knows the sex of a pelican is another pelican? Just in case a happy event were to take place during the coming spring, even if it were very unexpected, will he agree to pay a visit to the park to see whether anything is going on?

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's supplementary question. I am more than happy to agree to take a pleasant lakeside walk in St. James's Park in the spring. The only thing I am certain of is that, since we believe that pelicans first arrived under the reign of James I and there has been no productive activity since that date, it may be a wasted walk.

My Lords, would it not be more seemly for the noble Lord to start at the other end of the pelican? Is it not the case that:

"A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak,
Food enough for a week,
But I'm damned if I see how the helican"?

My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely correct. I am told that if you look closely at the knobs at the base of the top mandible of a pelican, as they approach the breeding season there is a change of colour to those who have particularly sharp eyes.

2.37 p.m.

My Lords, if these pelicans have not laid an egg since the time of James I, where do they come from? If they were Celtic pelicans they would reproduce and if they were Anglo-Saxon pelicans I am sure they would do well. But the noble Lord should explain to the House whether it is the baleful influence of Whitehall?

My Lords, we are in a sense dependent on diplomatic charity with regard to the pelicans. We have had them from Louisiana and from Texas, and we have even been grateful to receive them from His Highness the Amir of Bahawalpur. At the moment, of the pelicans we have, four come from Ravensden Zoo in Northamptonshire—and no finer county could they come from—and the fifth bird was donated by the state of Louisiana in 1982.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of what the pelicans think themselves?

"Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican Jee!
We think no birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican Jill!
We thought so then, and we think so still!".

My Lords, they looked very happy the last time I saw them as I walked through the park.

My Lords, is not the truth that the pelicans are in St. James's Park as a symbol of political life? The beak holds more than the belly can.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, for his observation.

My Lords, is it not a well known fact that male pelicans are bigger than female pelicans?

My Lords, I fear that that may not be quite the case. If I refer to the matter of the knobs on the base of the top of the mandible, which appears to be the only certain form of detection, there is a slight difference in colour. The male knob of the pelican is a lemon-yellow and the female's a rich orange, but unfortunately the colours are variable and are not a certain guide to the sex.

My Lords, is it not a possibility that a stork may visit the pelican house and then one would get a new connotation of the expression "pelican crossing"?

My Lords, I am sure that that would be the case. Whether or not a productive result would be the outcome is another matter.