16 June 2008

The Parakeets of Windsor


Urban Environment

On a recent trip back to my old hometown of Windsor, I was stood in the garden of my parents when a flock of seven loudly squawking, bright green parakeets flew overhead. My mother insisted that this was perfectly normal, and that the parakeets had been around in Windsor since at least the early 1970s. Odd then, that I’d never come across them in the entire 19 years that I lived there.

Two of Windsor’s Psittacula krameri

The next day I took a walk into the center of town, and there they were again, shooting overhead, their long tails trailing behind. A day later I took a walk into Windsor’s great park, a 20 square kilometer Norman hunting ground and the Queen’s modest back garden. On the way, the now familiar chattering overhead signalled their presence once again. Now I was convinced they were following me, and once in the park itself I managed to catch them taking a breather on the high branch of a dead tree.

(left) Ring-necked parakeet distribution in the UK, (right) a parakeet awaiting distribution [Sources: RSPB]

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Britain’s parakeets are decendents of pets which either escaped, or were released deliberately. Despite being tropical birds, they’ve been able to withstand cold winters and started to breed in 1969 in the county of Kent, south of London. Peculiar though are British laws concerning the bird: it is illegal to release them deliberately, but they are protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The RSPB estimates that there could be as many as 50,000 of the birds in London alone by the year 2010. It’s particularly odd that their numbers are increasing when one considers the rapid decline of the sparrow population in urban areas. Indeed, sparrows have made it onto the RSPB’s red list of globally threatened species.

Searching for UK parakeet sightings on the BBC website, I came across the following two relatively recent articles:

How do parakeets survive in the UK? – find out here
In pictures: suburban parakeets – better photos than mine of some pretty thuggish looking examples

A couple more links:
The RSPB website
A Windsor Information website