Monday, October 10, 2011

Ring-necked parakeet invaders

click photo to enlarge
Walking along Rotherhithe Street in London the other day my ears and then my eyes were drawn to a ring-necked parakeet flying above me between the warehouse conversions and new flats that line the way. Its repeated raucous screech and its bright colours seemed out of place in that man-made canyon: a steamy jungle or baking sub-equatorial plain seemed more appropriate. And yet, a growing population of these birds can be found in London and in many other localities in western Europe.

The first recorded British breeding in the wild of this bird was in Norfolk in 1855, so escapees have long been known to survive in our colder climate. However, the next recorded occurence was not until 1969, in Kent. Thereafter colonies became established in south-east England, in the north-west (I saw them occasionally on the Fylde) and elsewhere. On the afternoon of the day I saw the Rotherhithe bird we went to Greenwich Park. Walking into the trees only a short way from the heavily peopled Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum found us surrounded by ring-necked parakeets. In that location they were as common as the carrion crows and wood pigeons, and much noisier. The berry-laden trees were clearly the attraction, and I managed to photograph this bird in the act of eating. My shot is fairly heavily cropped - I don't possess a lens capable of close-ups of birds.

On my return home I did a bit of digging concerning the spread of this species in the UK. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) estimates a resident breeding population of c.5000 birds, mainly in Surrey, Kent and Sussex. Other authorities judge there to be double that number, and it has become one of the 20 most commonly seen birds in London. In 2009 Natural England relaxed the legislation on this species and monk parakeets allowing their control (i.e. killing) in some circumstances. Whether the ring-necked parakeet is allowed to spread and increase further in numbers will doubtless depend on the impact it has on indigenous species and fruit growing. Will it attain the status of the little owl and the pheasant, birds that we no longer think of as non-native species, or will it be subjected to the sort of culling that has reduced the number of ruddy ducks from around 5000 to about 120?

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 300mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 500
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On