Country & Garden: Squawk on the wild side

The vibrant green ring-necked parakeet can strip a plum tree in minutes with its large red beak. Now thousands have settled near fruit- growing areas of Britain.

THIS WINTER, if you arrive home to find your garden bird peanut- holder torn to shreds on the ground and the contents gone, do not jump to the conclusion that you have overly aggressive grey squirrels in residence. Instead, and especially if you live around London or the Home Counties, watch out for a far more exotic and colourful creature which, some years hence, could turn out to be an abominable nuisance.

The creature in question is a gorgeously coloured bird, not much smaller than a magpie, which screeches noisily whether flying or at rest.

The ring-necked parakeet - vibrant green all over, save for a narrow, pink and black neck band; with a long tail and a large, red beak - is a native of parts of Asia and tropical Africa. It first appeared in the wild in Britain in 1969.

According to Josephine Pithon of the University of York, who has been carrying out research on southern England's ring-necked parakeets, we now have about 2,000 of them. The birds are scattered as far afield as South Wales and East Anglia.

"The largest single population is in west London, stretching from Windsor in the west to Richmond in the east and to Reigate in the south", says Ms Pithon. "There are two smaller populations, one mainly around Margate and Ramsgate, and the other in southeast London."

Were it not for the food that they eat, you could argue that these exotic birds brighten up many a cold, damp winter afternoon in Cheam. It sounds harmless enough: a vegetarian diet of berries, nuts and fruits. But Britain's main populations of ring-necks are perilously close to some of the main fruit-growing areas of England. One or two of them can devour the plums on a garden tree in a few hours, so just think what havoc they might cause among the pear, apple, plum and other soft fruit bushes in Kent.

"Potentially, yes, they could cause a considerable amount of damage," says Sir Christopher Lever, an expert on introduced animals, including birds. "But," he adds quickly, "so far they haven't been a problem."

Josephine Pithon's research confirms this view, although she does note that they have caused damage to garden orchards by taking a peck from each fruit before letting it fall. Nevertheless, concern that ring-necked parakeets could have the makings of a major pest explains why the research was sponsored by the Ministryt of Agriculture.

No one is sure how these birds arrived in Britain. They may have come from free-flying homing birds kept as pets which failed to make it back to their aviaries. They may have been escapees from pet shops or from exotic bird farms. Or, according to the ornithological literature, they may derive from birds released by returning sailors when they realised the expense involved in a lengthy period of quarantine. Or a combination of all three.

However they came to be here, and despite their origins in hot countries, they are seemingly able to survive the cold of a British winter. This unimagined success may well be the result of the British gardener's virtual obsession with putting food out for birds in winter. But Josephine Pithon does point out that within their natural range, ring-necked parakeets also occur at high altitude in the Himalayas. "They seem to survive there quite well except for suffering from frostbite on their feet," she says.

These large birds probably have no obvious predators except for the occasional domestic moggy or a stoat that might strike lucky, and other birds such as magpies robbing their nests - but they do not appear to be in direct competition with any other bird species, so none is suffering as a result of their presence.

David Gibbons, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, agrees they might compete for tree nesting holes in gardens, parks and orchards with jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers, but there is no evidence so far of any problem.

All the same it is a bird to watch, in more ways than one. For the next few years, at least, make the most of this exotic addition to your garden but do reinforce your peanut holder.

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'