Monday, 31 October 2011

Parakeets in the park

As part of Feed the Birds Day, my local RPSB group set up some bird feeders and a stall in Canons Park yesterday afternoon in order to encourage members of the public to get involved. I thought I’d go along and help. This led to an enjoyable couple of hours chatting to people – mostly local group members who’d also come along – about bird identification tips, binoculars, an abortive twitch earlier in the day concerning a warbler usually found in Siberia, and how it is that Ring-necked Parakeets have come to be so common in the London area.

As may be deduced from that opening paragraph, our most obvious visitors in terms of both noise and numbers were Ring-necked Parakeets, about whom I am that little bit more knowledgeable than before. I can now tell a male from a female (males have a pink band behind the neck – hence the alternative name for this bird, the Rose-ringed Parakeet – while females do not), and I know that they nest in holes in trees (sometimes old woodpecker nests). An introduced species who are the presumed to be the descendants of escaped cage birds (personally, I like the story about the originals escaping from Shepperton Studios during the filming of The African Queen), these birds have apparently been around in the wild in South-East England since at least the 1950s, although people have only started to pay attention to them in recent years, presumably due to a population explosion. I certainly don’t remember them getting a mention in any of the field guides I had when I first got into birdwatching as a child in the late 1980s, but today they’re very common – if a little unusual – birds in the London area.

It has to be said that these birds, the sound of which is like no other bird you’re likely to see in London, aren’t the most popular. I don’t think that’s not just because they’re an invasive species. After all, no-one has anything bad to say about Little Owls which were introduced to England in the nineteenth century. And at the other end of the scale, no-one is (yet) talking about an approved cull like that to which Ruddy Ducks – another species that established itself in the wild in this country after a few of them escaped from captivity – have been subjected. As far as the Ring-necks are concerned, dislike of them is mostly due to concerns about their full impact on native species like Great and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and the effect they may have on fruit crops in places like Kent (they are considered to be pests in their native India). For the most part, this is one case where the jury is still out.

I must say I rather like them though. I think it’s great that in a relatively short space of time, a bird that is completely new (and potentially unsuited) to this country has managed to carve out its own ecological niche here. And yes, I think they’re fun to watch.

While the Ring-necks took centre stage by sheer numbers, special mention must also go to a couple of Mistle Thrushes seen perched in what looked like the only tree around that had already lost its leaves, fleeting visits to the feeders by a Blue Tit and a Great Tit when the Ring-necks’ attention was elsewhere, a few Magpies, flocks of Starlings and Goldfinches, and the first (for me anyway) Redwings of the winter.

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