Flocks of Green Parakeets are seen flying over the streets of London in increasing numbers every year. They are frequently referred to as the London Parrots whereas they are, more correctly, a Parakeet.
Their origins lies in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Ring-Neck Parakeet Psittacula krameri is used to both a cool and variable climate which has led to its success as an immigrant in many countries outside of its normal range. It now has established itself in small numbers all over the UK reaching as far as Glasgow in the North, Wales in the West and has been spotted everywhere in between.
It is within London however it is proving to be most successful. Here, huge roosts of several thousand Parakeets can be found. The birds disperse into small flocks during the day feeding on bird tables, fruit trees, allotments and anywhere that it finds easy pickings. The Ring Neck Parakeet is an opportunist feeder.
With an estimated UK population of around 100,000 birds more than half of these live in London.
Ring Necked Parakeets
Is it a Parrot or a Parakeet?
Many people refer to the London Parakeets as Parrots. It is not wrong in as much as both Parrots and Parrakeets belong to the same family... the Parrot family... and so all are Psittaciformes. Strictly speaking though if you are going to use the English name then it would be correct to refer to these smaller London birds are Parakeets.
Where Did They Come From?
There are many theories and suppositions as to the origins of the colonies of Parakeets in London. These include:
- Introduced by Jimi Hendrix who was said to have released a pair in Carnaby Street as a symbol of freedom.
- Released after making the movie 'The African Queen' at the Shepperton Film Studios.
- Escaped from aviaries after the great storm of 1987.
- Escaped from a broken container at Heathrow Airport.
- Castaways from a stranded cargo ship.
In fact feral populations of Parakeets have been known in Britain for more than 150 years. The first being recorded in Norfolk 1855. As these birds are exceptional mimics they were a popular pet in Victorian times. It is likely the first London birds were escapes or deliberate introductions and with little competition and few predators they started to breed.
Over the past 45 years the Ring-Neck Parakeet has been recorded in every single London Borough. There were estimated to be around 30,000 birds in London in 2007. By 2010 that estimate had risen to 55,000!
So did Jimi Hendrix and the African Queen and the other quoted possibilities play a part? It is entirely possible. The Ring-Neck Parakeet was and is a popular pet. Inevitably there will be escapes and ill thought out releases every year. This is a drip feed of new blood which steadily strengthens the genetic pool. This combined with the fact the birds breed well anyway means the population continues to strongly expand.
Escaped exotic birds if not harried by crows or predators will quickly find their own kind. Ask at any zoo in the UK and someone will have story to tell of an escaped cockatiel, budgerigar or Ring-Neck Parakeet flying in lured by the sound of familiar bird noises in the zoo below.
Ring-Neck Parakeet in Glasgow
Species of Wild Parrots and Parakeets in Britain
There is not just one species of parrotlike bird which has decided upon making London its home. There are several other species to be found in London and around the UK, although in much smaller numbers. These include:
- Ring-neck or Rose-Ringed Parakeet Psitacula krameri *
- Alexandrine Parakeet Psittacula eupatria
- Orange-Winged Amazon Parrot Amazona amazonica
- Monk Parakeet or Quaker Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus
- Blue-Crowned Conure Aratinga a.acuticaudata
*Actually believed to be a mix of two subspecies Psitacula krameri borealis and Psitacula krameri manillensis
Parakeet Emerging From Nesting Cavity
A Problem Pest?
Are the feral Parakeet populations a problem? Right now the damage they are doing is minimal but they are capable of doing a lot of damage when in numbers. Whole orchards could face a loss of marketable produce after a visit from a flock of these birds. Damage to Vineyards and Maize crops has already taken place.
Like all introduced species they will ultimately affect our native bird populations. Some of these Parakeets are hole nesters and as they nest fairly early in the year compared to the native British birds then they are going to hog all the best cavities. There will be nowhere for Woodpeckers, Owls and others to go.
Attractive as these little birds are they do not belong here. Unless something is done to reduce the numbers now it may well become too late as it was in the case of the Grey Squirrel, Mink and others.
Ring-Neck Parakeets are long lived and breed well and relatively mild winters of the past few years suits them well.