A guest blog by Phil Allott
In the first of our collection of intriguing guest blogs, we welcome North East based birder Phil to share his thoughts on one of our more tropical non-native species.
My fascination with the Rose-ringed Parakeet goes back to my childhood when I regularly visited relatives in London. I still remember how intrigued I was by the urban yet very wild landscapes of Richmond and Bushey Parks with their herds of majestic, albeit out of place, Red Deer and colourful, exotic species such as Egyptian Geese and Mandarin drifting across the various ponds.
Whilst watching in awe at this alien ecosystem, I noticed the air was filled with the piercing call of the iridescent Rose Ringed Parakeet, a strikingly green, tropical parrot species far more at home across Africa and South Asia. Whilst watching a flock of parakeets swoop overhead, I first asked myself the question; ‘how exactly had so many ended up here?’
With my interest sparked, I investigated their origins and found multiple theories, ranging from escapees on the set of The African Queen in 1951 to public releases by Jimi Hendrix in the Sixties! Although conclusions differ, the general consensus is that they are all derived from caged birds.
Encouraged self-isolation for the majority during the current COVID-19 pandemic means that opportunities to embrace Spring and all its wonder have been reduced to gardens, or brief glimpses whilst exercising or shopping for essentials. I write this from suburban Northumberland, hardly Parakeet central, but during this time of reflection I remember marvelling at the parakeets and their idiosyncrasies on Spring days gone by. Fortunately, in recent years these sightings have been closer to home, namely around Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Their colonisation (whatever the origins), of the wider Newcastle area has been bold and unforgiving, following a simple strategy. The parakeets find friends, find food and find shelter. A mobhanded nature combined with naturally gregarious behaviour has meant that their progress has been rapid and uncompromising. Moving their attention from the west end of Newcastle, they have settled to breed in the series of parks bordering the east end of the city, spilling into North Tyneside.
Draw whatever parallels you will between a non-native creature, supposedly progressing at the expense of native species and becoming a more and more common sight. Personally, I can only see parakeets as a positive addition to our native fauna. An example of successful evolution, something that started out unnaturally and ended up colonising, not sparing the irony that these birds were originally caged and brought to Europe for our entertainment before escaping and ‘taking over’.
Considered a ‘pest’ and an ‘invader’ by many, the Rose Ringed Parakeets are treated with suspicion by some, but others are just as intrigued as me. Publishing my findings about Newcastle’s parakeet population, I have had many conversations with people who are fascinated with the parakeets, their origins and the impact they have on native species. I don’t claim to have any concrete evidence but only offer my own opinion and I am writing this post as a sort of plea. To me, nature is nature, it will always progress despite our intervention and perceived control or taming of it. The Rose Ringed Parakeet is an example of this and as they can not only survive but thrive, why not let them continue? Life is too short not to embrace nature and during these troubling times, shouldn’t we appreciate what nature has to offer? If you are lucky enough to share your outside space with parakeets, then enjoy their company.
I long for the days when I could enjoy the experience of eating a meal on the terrace of Sambucas restaurant in Heaton Park (Newcastle) whilst watching the RRP’s go about their lives, hopping around the tree tops, squawking and squeaking and certainly bringing a touch of the exotic to the North East.