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.
Saturday 28 November 1998
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 & Ents blogs
- 1 Australia to impose 24-hour curfew on all cats to protect endangered species
- 2 Model's video shoot on the beach interrupted by sudden landing of a group of illegal migrants
- 3 The difference between a psychopath and a sociopath
- 4 MH370 search: Boeing 777 wing that could match missing plane found on the French island of Reunion
- 5 'Killer robots' with AI must be banned, urge Stephen Hawking, Noam Chomsky and thousands of others in open letter
Frank Ocean, where's that new album at?
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk
Jesse Pinkman's meth den house from Breaking Bad is yours for $1.6 million
Top Gear: Jenson Button reportedly joining Chris Evans as replacement host
R Kelly's Ignition (Remix) is the most nostalgic song going, according to Spotify
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
Labour leadership contest: I would never quit the party, says Liz Kendall