Dr Hazel Jackson quoted in New Statesman on ring-necked parakeets
14th December 2017
The ring-necked parakeet is described by the RSPB as the UK's only naturalised parrot, of which there are estimated to be as many as 32,000 clustered mainly in the south-east of England. They can also be seen in city parks across Europe, from Paris to Helsinki.
They have so completely dominated these patches of urban greenery, however, that colonies are beginning to spread into the countryside, where local authorities are increasingly concerned at how these invasive birds can strip gardens bare and also drive away native bird populations such as nuthatches and woodpeckers.
How the ring-necked parakeet first came to Europe remains unclear. Native to sub-Saharan Africa and the foothills of the Himalayas, they began to be noticed in parks and suburban gardens in the 1960s. It has been suggested that some ringnecks escaped from Shepperton Studios during the filming of The African Queen in 1951 and that the rocker Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair in the late 1960s. "He released two birds in Carnaby Street to inject psychedelic colour into the streets of London," says Dr Hazel Jackson, a postdoctoral research associate at DICE and member of ParrotNet, a European forum for researchers investigating the spread and behaviour of ring-necked parakeets.
More likely is that there have been multiple introductions. Ringnecks are notoriously noisy and it isn't unreasonable to think that owners would release them. Others may have escaped from homes, in transit, or from storm-damaged aviaries.
The birds' wide appetites – they can eat plants, flowers and berries that are toxic to other species – have made them unwelcome visitors to some gardens. "I've had people call me and say, 'How do I attract parakeets to my garden? How do I get them to come and [sit] on my bird feeders?'" says Jackson, speaking to Greg Noone of the New Statesman. "And then six months later they'll contact me and say, 'How do I get rid of these parrots?'”
In parts of India, ringnecks are regarded as an agricultural pest, and similar attitudes are beginning to form among farmers in southern Europe. An unpublished study conducted outside Seville in Spain showed that the birds could wipe out 10 per cent of a sunflower crop.
ParrotNet's members are finalising a policy brief for the UK government that pulls together all its recent research about ring-necked parakeets. The recommendations will include further public education about the birds, stricter regulations on their import and release, and measures to arrest their spread. Factors that could decide the removal of new colonies in the UK include close proximity to crops they could feed on, or nesting in places that act as staging areas from where they could wreak havoc on gardens and farms.
ParrotNet prefers to leave specific control methods up to policymakers, but does not endorse a nationwide cull, as several readers of a recent Guardian article quoting Dr Jackson about the organisation's preliminary recommendations assumed when they sent her hate mail. "There is nothing like that planned for the UK," she says. "We're just interested in learning about them and about how and why they do so well."
The full article can be read here.