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
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links