LOOK: This is why posh parakeets are parading through London skies

Commonly known as the ring-necked or rose-ringed parakeet about the band around the male birds’ necks, Psittacula krameri is native to Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Picture: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Commonly known as the ring-necked or rose-ringed parakeet about the band around the male birds’ necks, Psittacula krameri is native to Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Picture: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

Published Dec 7, 2022


When thinking of London and England in general, you would be forgiven for not immediately picturing bright, neon-green squawking birds streaking through the depressing grey skies of the British capital.

Hordes of ring-necked parakeets, a common pet in South Africa, have made the posh suburban parks and greenspaces of England their unlikely not-so-tropical home away from home.

English media publication, the Norwich Evening News, reported earlier this month that “there are worrying indications that the spread of the ring-necked parakeet is having a detrimental effect on some native bird species.”

Researchers found that the parakeets were breeding much earlier in the year compared to native birds, often in old woodpecker nests, preventing secondary cavity nesters such as the nuthatch and starling from using these nests.

The UK’s Natural History Museum (NHM) explained that “records of parakeets living wild in the UK can be found going back to the mid-nineteenth century, but it is only since the late 1990s that the raucous green parrots have been seen in London and southeast England in significant numbers and started to settle elsewhere in the country.”

Parakeets eat bird feed. File picture: Arun Sankar/AFP

Commonly known as the ring-necked or rose-ringed parakeet because of the band around the male birds' necks, Psittacula krameri is native to Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

To pinpoint the ancestral home of the birds living in Europe, researchers from the University of Kent took DNA samples from wild birds and museum specimens, including some cared for at the Natural History Museum at Tring. The scientists traced the majority of the UK's parakeets to Pakistan and northern areas of India.

The large gardens of the wealthier parts of the capital provided rich pickings at the bird table, and their journey via the stepping stones of the city’s generous parks helped their expansion.

There are numerous urban legends about how exactly the parakeets came to be in London. A popular theory was that the birds escaped from the set of the 1951 film The African Queen, filmed in West London.

Another rumour, according to the NHM, was that Jimi Hendrix released a pair on Carnaby Street, right in the centre of the capital. But according to a study which mapped historical news reports of sightings of the birds, none of these urban myths are true.

A rose-ringed parakeet is pictured on a balcony. File picture: Jack Guez/AFP

The researchers from Queen Mary University of London wrote, “most ornithologists believe the parakeets' spread in the UK is more likely to be a consequence of repeated releases and introductions”.

One of the main reasons the pioneering parakeets have become so prevalent is their ability to adapt so well to the new, sometimes inhospitable environment.

Florin Feneru, identification and advisory officer here at the NHM said that “the mosaic of gardens, parks, mature trees, mixed hedges and older buildings with suitable holes for nesting actually mimics the fragmented forest habitats the birds favour in their native range.”

“Parakeets are opportunistic feeders,” added Florin. “They have learned to exploit a variety of foodstuffs such as seeds and fruit. They eat flowers and young buds. They even eat tree bark. They're very adaptable.”

The parakeets are preyed upon by owls, sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons with their eggs and even young chicks being taken by grey squirrels but little green exotics are not always the victims.

Feneru had witnessed parakeets pick fights with squirrels and other birds such as starlings and jackdaws. “They can be aggressive and violent. They've been known to kill small mammals such as bats in tree hollows,” he said.

Dr Hazel Jackson, research affiliate at the University of Kent and a parakeet specialist is hesitant to call the ring-necked parakeet a "problem" in the UK but says the further scientific study is needed to determine whether they are an invasive species causing harm to native wildlife.

Although the UK conservation authorities have implemented control measures for other invasive species in the past, Dr Jackson said that the “ring-necked parakeets are here to stay - they number tens of thousands and their population size is growing.”

“They have been here for around 50-plus years now and there are no obvious and significant impacts to UK wildlife reported so far. Many people feel they have found their own niche here. And they are also the second favourite prey for our London peregrines.”

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