If you’ve visited London’s parks recently, you might’ve noticed some rather tropical birds lurking in the trees.
London’s parakeets are Ring-necked parakeets (also called Rose-ringed parakeets). They consist of the Indian subspecies Psittacula krameri manillensis, which has potentially hybridised with the boreal subspecies Psittacula krameri borealis.
The UK population of these charming birds has increased dramatically, reaching around 50,000 in London alone in 2021. As the climate continues to warm, both parakeets and numerous other warmer climate animals are likely to take up residence in the UK, especially in its warmer towns and cities.
Parakeets have only become common in London in the last 50 or so years, and are now spreading across the UK to cities as far north as Glasgow.
As beautiful as they are, these highly intelligent and adaptable birds are potentially dangerous for native UK wildlife, and conservationists are wondering if and when they’ll become an issue.
Of course, there is much more to learn about these fascinating birds - read on to find out!
The green birds in London are Rose-ringed parakeet, Psittacula krameri manillensis, also known as ring-necked parakeet
Parakeets are an invasive species, meaning they’re not native to the UK. In fact, Ring-necked parakeets originate from Africa and the Indian subcontinent and South Asia and don’t occur naturally in the entirety of Europe.
There are numerous theories for why Ring-necked parakeets came to London, but their true origins are only just becoming clear. Here are the main theories:
In 1968, Hendrix released his final studio album, Electric Ladyland. While rambling the streets of Mayfair with two caged parakeets that some sources name as Quant and Halston and others as Adam and Eve.
Hendrix decided to set the birds free, some claim he was high, and others claim it was a statement of peace. The chances that those two birds went on to thrive into the 50,000+ strong population in London today? Almost impossible - as poetic as it may be for two parakeets named Adam and Eve to give life to London’s entire parakeet population!
In 1987, the Great Storm ripped through the UK, tearing through an aviary in Esher and releasing two breeding parakeets. Similarly to the above theory, it’s unlikely that two birds would’ve been numerically likely to produce the larger population we can see today.
In 1951, they were filming The African Queen at Isleworth studios. Director John Hulston brought in as many real props as possible, including parakeets. However, they reportedly don’t even appear in the film!
Another theory reports that a group of parakeets escaped a pet shop in Sunbury in 1970. This is allegedly true, but again, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Rose-Ringed Parakeets in Hyde Park, London
Analysing the whereabouts of London’s parakeets relies on both historical anecdotes and population analysis. It’s possible to trace sightings with bird spotting databases and newspaper headlines, enabling researchers to correlate increasing sightings with historical events and other data.
It’s generally accepted that parakeet sightings firstly started occurring around Richmond and Kew, where the birds crossed the Thames to Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park and Hyde Park. They then established themselves in Hampstead Heath and Highgate in north London, east to Hackney and west to Notting Hill. Newspaper records date back until at least the 1930s or so, but become more common throughout the 50s and 60s.
One explanation for how parakeets first came to London suggests that newspaper headlines on “parrot fever” in the 1920s and 30s led middle and upper-class parrot owners to release their birds for fear of illness.
Small released parakeet populations were bolstered by other escapees throughout the mid and late-19th century. In other words, no single event established parakeets in London, such as Hendrix, or the Great Storm.
Instead, numerous smaller events saw parakeet populations climb steadily over the course of over half a century. After all, parakeets are popular pets and botanical gardens like Kew would’ve made an ideal home for these semi-tropical birds.
Once the birds acclimatised to London’s more favourable parks habitats, they learned to adapt to other habitats inside and outside of the city.
Moreover, London’s temperature has risen considerably over the last 50 to 100 years, which made life easier for parakeets. London is also one of the greenest cities in the world and features numerous large biodiverse parks.
Researchers believe this also greatly assisted escaped parakeets in establishing themselves amongst the capital’s 8 million trees.
The Parakeets in London are generally tame, and will sometimes land on your hand
Jimi Hendrix released two parakeets on Carnaby Street in 1968, possibly because he was high or possibly as a statement of peace. The problem is that parakeets were sighted across London many years before that. So while Hendrix’s parakeets may have joined London’s flock, they didn’t start it.
That isn’t parakeets’ only claim to fame. In the 1990s, Boy George’s parakeets were released following a burglary. So, there may be offspring of both Jimi Hendrix and Boy George’s parakeets in London right now!
The primary species of parakeet that lives in London is the Ring-necked parakeet, also called the Rose-ringed parakeet.
These parakeets live across parts of Africa and Asia and are especially common in India and the Indian subcontinent. The subspecies of parakeet naturalised in the UK and USA is the Indian subspecies, the Indian Ring-necked parakeet (P. k. manillensis), but some genetic evidence suggests hybridisation with the Borealis subspecies (P. k. krameri borealis).
These quirky green parrots are about the same size as a crow but have long tails. They’re sociable birds that live in large flocks, often nesting and roosting communally.
Ring-necked parakeets are intelligent and adapt their feeding habits to their environment, hence why they’re able to adapt to European and North American life. Parakeets breed and raise young with a high success rate, which is partly why their populations are soaring.
There is another less common species of naturalised parrot in the UK - the Monk parakeet. The Monk parakeet is native to South America, but there are growing populations in the Home Counties - especially Borehamwood in Hertfordshire - and on the Isle of Dogs in London.
It’s possible to see parakeets in practically every London park, including Richmond Park, Kew Gardens, Battersea Park, Regent’s Park, Woolwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Garden and Hampstead Garden.
You can also find them in Highgate Cemetery, Lewisham Cemetery, Croydon, Bromley, Esher and many other London suburbs.
Monk parakeets sometimes pop up around the Isle of Dogs, where they’ve created a large communal nesting site near a mobile phone telephone mast.
Ring-necked parakeets can be found all across Kensington Gardens but are especially common near Henry Moore’s Arch and on the west side of the park. They’re also common at the pond near Kensington Palace.
When you’re in front of Henry Moore’s statue, go left to keep the pond on your right, and after around 30m, you should see a bird feeder frequented by parakeets. If you reach the Peter Pan statue, walk back a few metres. There will be railings to your left-hand side and a path on the right.
Look to the trees if you can’t see parakeets near the ground. Parakeets often nest high up in old trees and can be seen darting from branch to branch.
A green parrot parakeet eating apples from a fence at Kensington Gardens
London’s parakeets now extend to many London suburbs, including Croydon, Esher, Wraysbury and Bromley. In addition, they extend to the north of London, to Surrey, Kent and Sussex, extending up to Liverpool, Oxford, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle.
There are now small populations in the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and the Welsh city of Cardiff. In the next couple of decades, parakeets will probably spread into most counties in England.
Feeding parakeets is controversial, and they don’t require human support to thrive. However, if you do wish to see parakeets up close in London, Kensington Gardens is probably the best spot.
Head to Henry Moore’s arch - parakeets there are especially tame and often feed from people’s hands.
A pair of parakeets perched in a tree during the Autumn in London
If you feed Ring-necked parakeets, choose a decent bird seed mix. Ring-necked parakeets aren’t fussy, though, and will eat a wide variety of seeds, fruits, greens and meat scraps.
Ring-necked parakeets are self-sufficient, and feeding is generally discouraged.
There are around 50,000 individual parakeets in London, by some estimates. In 1995, there were just 1500 or so, and in 2012, there were around 35,000. This shows how rapidly their populations are climbing.
Perched parakeet eating flowers from a branch
Parakeets, like most parrots, are highly intelligent. The Ring-necked parakeet is particularly hardy and adaptable and doesn’t mind colder temperatures so long as it can find food and shelter.
Parakeets are cavity nesters, which suits them to urban parks. They’re also flexible with regards to their diet, which includes seeds, grains, fruits, plant food, insects and meat scraps. London consists of around 47% green spaces, which provides ample nesting opportunities. Moreover, it’s a pretty warm city considering how far west it is, with summer temperatures averaging over 20C.
These ingenious parrots are highly sociable and form large flocks, which makes finding a mate and breeding simpler. They’re also not particularly scared of human contact, which helps them thrive in busy areas where most birds would prefer to be more isolated.
A pair of nesting Rose-ringed parakeets in London, UK
Parakeets are cavity nesters, meaning they select holes in trees similar to owls, woodpeckers and jackdaws.
London’s old parks contain numerous ageing trees that are full of cavities. Parakeets build a simple nest inside a pre-existing cavity, where they lay 2 to 4 eggs. The young birds fledge after around 30 to 50 days.
Some Monk parakeets have taken up residence on London’s infrastructure, including a telephone mast in London’s Isle of Dogs that has become a major nesting site.
Ring-necked Parakeet eating pink blossom of a cherry tree in London park
London’s parakeet population has grown considerably. While they were never really considered a problem, there are worries now that they could compete with native cavity nesters such as owls and woodpeckers.
However, as of yet, there’s minimal evidence to suggest that parakeets are having a significant impact on local ecology, and some conservationists believe that they’re occupying their own niche…for now.
The issue is that London’s parakeets are no longer contained and branch out to practically every region across the country. If their numbers continue to climb, Green-necked parakeets could well become an invasive species of concern to British wildlife.
As of 2022, there are no substantial plans to cull the birds, but a general licence to kill them was issued for when the birds target agricultural crops or fruits.
While Green-necked parakeets are still occupying their own niche, there are growing concerns that this is only temporary and that harm to native wildlife is inevitable.
Parakeets at sunset in Beddington Park, Sutton, London
Parakeets receive the same legal protection as wild birds under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. However, there is a General Licence to control the birds in special circumstances, such as when they pose a risk to crops or other native birds.
London’s green parrots are Ring-necked parakeets, also called Rose-ringed parakeets. The parakeets are thought to consist of the Indian subspecies and a hybrid of the Indian subspecies and boreal subspecies (P.k. borealis and P.k. manillensis). These subspecies natively inhabit the temperate regions of North Africa, the Himalayas and other parts of the Indian subcontinent.
There is another species of parakeet in London and the UK, the Monk parakeet, which is native to South America. Monk parakeets are concentrated in the Isle of Dogs and the Home Counties, particularly Borehamwood in Hertfordshire.
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