Perhaps the most exotic, but also one of the most frequent bird visitors I have in the garden are Ring Necked Parakeets. A large and very striking bright green bird which looks completely out of place in our often cold and damp environment. Yet they are resident to my garden and often descend in noisy, boisterous groups onto the bird feeders. A typical example is shown in the clip below.
When I have people visiting, remember that, they are often surprised and delighted to see them, then they always ask the same questions, where are they from and how did they get here?
Fairly obviously they are not from here, here being the north of Europe. They are native to Asia and Tropical Africa. The red areas on the map below.
The map also shows lots of much smaller green dots and these are the areas where we can now find them. Interestingly it includes both Paris, where I now live, and London, where I used to live. These birds have always been with me.
There are many stories about how tropical parakeets arrived here. A very nice one is that they were brought to London in 1951 for the filming of the movie ‘The African Queen’ with Humprey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. It was filmed at Shepperton studios in the South West of London, which is the epi-centre of the parakeet population in London. The story goes that the birds were finally not used in the film and that rather than manage their proper return the film company simply let them go.
Another intriguing story involves Jimi Hendrix, the Summer of Love in 1968 and 2 parakeets called Adam and Eve. Look it up!
However these, and all the other slightly fantastic stories are, I’m afraid, just urban myths. The truth is that since the 19th Century parakeets have been imported to Europe as exotic pets, and gradually they have escaped. Sometimes individually but there have also been a some mass escape events, typically from airports. Two of these were from Orly airport in the South of Paris, one in the 1970’s and another in the 1990’s. It is probably not a coincidence that the largest population in France is based not far from this airport and in London it is next to Heathrow.
Once escaped they found the local climate and environment quite suitable and over time their numbers have increased.
An estimation in 2015 was that there were around 30,00 birds in the UK, mainly around London, and approximately 7,000 in the Paris region. There were also populations of around 10,000 each in Holland, Belgium and Germany and smaller numbers in several other European countries. And these populations continue to expand rapidly.
Invasive species often prosper as their natural predators are generally not introduced with them, which is of course very handy. There is then no natural check on the population growth. The Parakeets in Northern Europe are not predator free though and birds of prey will take them. The picture below, unfortunately not taken by myself, shows a Peregrine Falcon with a Parakeet in its talons.
It is interesting that at the same time as the population of Ring Necked Parakeets has increased so have the numbers of Peregrine Falcons in urban environments. I’m sure that this is not solely due to the parakeets, the falcons also feed heavily on pigeons, but it is perhaps a factor.
In my garden the parakeets are bordering on a pest. They are year-round residents and have a tendency to dominate the feeders, putting off the smaller birds. I haven’t found a particular solution to this. I’ve tried using squirrel proof feeders in the hope that they would be parakeet proof, but to no avail. What I have found is that the parakeets tend not to feed directly off a bird table and I’ve also installed a seed feeder low down which they don’t use. So at least I can be sure that the smaller birds are getting a fair share.
I’m not sure why they are so prevalent in my garden, I have friends living close by who only have a very occasional visit. I do know that parakeets like to nest in holes and hollows in mature trees, with sycamore being a particular favourite. Both of my neighbours have very large sycamores in their gardens so this might be a factor, together with my ever replenished bird feeders.
Even if they are a pest, they are a very colourful one, and certainly one that I’ll have to continue to live with as I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere else, anytime soon.
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