Asian parakeets find asylum in south London

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While Londoners mourn the loss of one of their most famous inhabitants, the cockney sparrow, the capital's resident wild parakeet population is enjoying rude health.

While Londoners mourn the loss of one of their most famous inhabitants, the cockney sparrow, the capital's resident wild parakeet population is enjoying rude health.

There are up to 3,000 Rose-Ringed or Ring-Necked Parakeets ( Psittacula krameri) in London, probably descendants of birds released or escaped into the wild in the 1950s and 1960s.

Indigenous to Asia, their favourite haunt is south London. There are small colonies in east London and the Isle of Thanet in north Kent.

The first recorded sighting of parakeets in the British wild was in 1855 in Norfolk. The colony in London is the country's only naturalised population of significant size. Dr Stephen Hunter, head of countryside management at the Central Science Laboratory, said people had released the parakeets because they liked to see them flying around. The birds have a blue tail and a deep pink collar. ''They are also pretty good at getting out of places and they are destructive. Parrots stay around if you feed them.''

They had survived so well in Britain, he said, because they were used to wet weather. ''In India they are high in the mountains so they are tolerant of poor weather. They can put up with our winters.

"They also don't really have natural predators. As they're up in trees cats don't tend to get to them. They are aggressive birds. Certainly my cat wouldn't touch them.''

The laboratory has been monitoring the birds because in India they are a serious agricultural pest, particularly of fruit orchards. But the parakeets so far refuse to swap city streets for quiet countryside.

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