Tired of Extinction Stories? The Wild Parakeets of London Bring Some Joy and Hope

Some people hate them for being an invasive species.

Others are grateful for the chance to watch and interact with such lively, colorful birds from the wild. You can see these London residents in Kensington Park, feeding these exotic rose-ringed parakeets right from their palms. And the birds gratefully take the food, with some of them even perching on people’s shoulders and heads to show how much they have come to trust these thoughtful, happy humans–child and adult alike.

Photo: YouTube/Birding is Fun

Who brought these vibrant green parakeets — also known as ring-necked parakeets — to London? There are quite a number of interesting stories according to National Geographic.

Some say that it was the famous American guitarist Jimi Hendrix who brought the birds to London in 1968. He had just released his album Electric Ladyland, and soon after his arrival in the city, he took a walk from his flat in Mayfair. With Hendrix were a pair of rose-ringed parakeets in a cage, which the guitarist set free while strolling toward Carnaby Street.

Based on another popular account, it was during the 1951 filming of The African Queen, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, that these birds were let out to fly free in the city.

Photo: YouTube/Birding is Fun

But the reality is there had been a sighting of a rose-ringed parakeet in Dulwich, South London, as early as 1893. The city, being the heart of a powerful empire, had been an extremely busy trading hub for all sorts of wildlife and products, especially after the colonization of Australia.

And so, after a few centuries, it is not surprising that these birds have made the United Kingdom their second home. In London, there must be around 30,000 of them who roost among tall trees in gardens, parklands, and even cemeteries.

There are some people who are concerned about the impact of these wild parakeets on the UK’s endemic species.

Photo: YouTube/Birding is Fun

“Ring-necked parakeets are known, or have the potential, to impose a range of detrimental impacts in their native and introduced range, as they are considered a major crop pest, potential vectors for disease and potential competitors for breeding sites with other cavity-nesting species,” according to the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFRA).

However, Paul Walton, head of habitat and species for the Scottish branch of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), has a different opinion. “We know that there are major agricultural problems in other parts of the world, like Asia, where seed crops get heavily impacted by parakeets. But that’s not happening in this country.”

He also says, although the birds might be affecting the population of nuthatches due to nest-snatching, it is very unlikely that it would become a serious trouble for the UK, due to the absence of any proof of actual impacts on the country’s wildlife.

Photo: YouTube/Birding is Fun

Some have suggested culling, but even DEFRA refused to take it as a solution due to public sensitivities.

“Even if parakeets were having major ecological impacts, which they are not, so far, the RSPB’s position is that it’s already too late to attempt eradication,” explained Walton. “Ring-necked parakeets are simply too well-established.”

And even though he does not see any ecological benefits from these parakeet populations, Walton added, “What I would say is that they are beautiful birds. And many people I know derive huge enjoyment from these colorful, lively birds. And that’s not a minor consideration. It’s actually quite significant in our view.”

Instead, Walton pointed out the important lesson to be learned from this case, “Human-introduced invasive species are a massive problem. They’re one of the fundamental drivers of biodiversity loss and one of the generators of the nature and climate emergency. The key message is that human beings must be much smarter about how we move animals and plants around the planet.”

Photo: YouTube/Birding is Fun

As for Nick Hunt, author of the book, The Parakeeting of London: An Adventure in Gonzo Ornithology, he thinks people appreciate the everyday experience of engaging with something surprising and extraordinary. “People who ordinarily would have no interest in birds or wildlife have been tuning into what is going on in the sky and the trees.”

And personally, Hunt sees London’s parakeets as heralds of hope. “The dominant backdrop of our times is of decline and extinction, of wild species disappearing. So, to see a species that is not only surviving but thriving, I can’t help thinking: Good on you, you’re bucking the trend.”

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