There are some new kids on my neighbourhood block. In deepest West Bromwich our gardens are now visited by ring-necked parakeets. With their noisy squawks, bright green plumage and parrot plumpness they bring a tropical touch to our northern climes. This pattern is being repeated around the world. Just as feral pigeons did they are establishing themselves in many towns and cities, having originally been imported as engaging pets.
Parakeets were first recorded breeding in the wild in England in Kent in 1969. They are now widespread in London and the south east, with roosts of thousands of birds in some places. Eating fruit, nuts and seeds there is plenty of food for them. They have spread as far north as Scotland, and have been in north Birmingham for some years. Curiously the bird organisations seem to have lost track of them: the RSPB’s information still shows them as being only in the south east. They no longer figure in the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden Birdwatch top twenty, although they were at number 15 in the south east in 2006.
As a conspicuous exotic species they are going through the typical stages of colonisation. First individual birds arrive, in this case probably through the pet trade. Second, some birds escape, or are released, and adapt to life in the wild. At this stage, with a few birds in a few places, they are regarded as an amusing novelty, and may even be welcomed. Third the population expands, in this case rapidly, and they cannot be ignored where they roost and feed. The first complaints about noise, mess, damage, and threats to native birds emerge.
The fourth stage brings calls for control and culling of the species concerned. Whilst the parakeets are concentrated in towns the damage they do to fruit trees and bushes is an annoyance to gardeners: if they spread to rural areas commercial fruit growers will be much keener to control them. The necessary legislation is already in place. Not that such efforts are likely to be successful. The population has not reached anywhere near its likely maximum, for every bird killed several more will take its place.
Parakeets have arrived, we might as well enjoy their antics, maybe teach them to say ‘we are here’, and resign ourselves to their depredations.