Ring-Necked Parakeets (London, UK)

London. The capital city of the UK. A historical wonderland home to Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Tower of London. A modern-day business hub centred around Canary Wharf. A touristic haven formed of iconic museums, West End theatre and tumultuous shopping on Oxford Street. A wildlife haven home to over 14,000 different species of plants, animals and fungi? Surely not?

Ring-necked parakeet (Canon EOS 1200D, Canon EF-S 55-250mm @ 250mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO 3200)

London is far wilder than you may first think. The capital of England, famed for its vibrant day-to-day lifestyle, actually has one of the highest percentages of green spaces, with a number of huge parks and gardens, of any of the European capitals. Ironically, my love for wildlife photography stemmed from visiting the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which is hosted within the Natural History Museum, located in South Kensington, every year. Since purchasing my DSLR camera back in 2017 I have taken trips to both Sri Lanka and Borneo as well as a few excursions up to Scotland and various ‘staycations’ around the UK. The majority of my photography work however has been produced right here, in my backyard so to speak, the city of London.



An initial glance around the capital might lead you to believe the wildlife found here is exclusively limited to grey squirrels and feral pigeons but London is so much more diverse than that. Stag beetles, seals, bats, badgers, skylarks, deers, kingfishers, water voles, peregrine falcons and adders are just a minuscule selection of the varied species that can be located roaming freely within the capital. Most of the above animals are not ones you are going to spot walking through Covent Garden, they might require just a little bit more exploration to locate. That being said, one of our most ‘exotic’ residents can be spotted almost anywhere within London and, if you have not seen one before, then you almost definitely will have heard one.

 

The ring-necked parakeet is the UK's only naturalised species of parrot having become established in the wild in the 1970s. The ring-necked parakeet's native range is a broad belt of arid tropical countryside stretching from west Africa across lowland India south of the Himalayas, where it is considered a common bird. There are a whole host of rumours as to how these colourful residents first became a common sight across the skies of London. The most probable is that the populations we see now originated from escapees from private collections. Some of the most fantastical include a story that birds escaped from Isleworth Studios having been used on the set of the film ‘The African Queen’ as well as a rumour that a pair of parakeets were released in Carnaby Street by Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.

Ring-necked parakeet (Canon EOS 1200D, Canon EF-S 55-250mm @ 250mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO 800)

However they arrived here, these birds have quickly established themselves as part of the British ecosystem, especially here within London. Despite their tropical origin these birds have quickly adapted to our colder winters, especially within the suburban parks of London where a food supply is more readily available and residents provide additional sustenance for them at tables and feeders.


Regardless of how they came to be here, the parakeets seem to have developed a marmite-style feeling with most people. Some love their bright colours, darting flight patterns and playful antics whilst others see them as a pest that decimates allotments and produces a very loud, unwanted noise pollutant.


They have been designated a non-native invasive species, meaning that essentially they should not be here, which puts them in the same category as the grey squirrel (which displaced the native red squirrel), the American mink and the crayfish - all animals which have had a devastating impact on native species. Unsurprisingly, concerns have been raised around the growing population of parakeets, especially here in London, and the potential impact they could have on other animals.

Ring-necked parakeets (Canon EOS 1200D, Canon EF-S 55-250mm @ 225mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO 800)

Recent scientific research has suggested that parakeets will compete with native bird and bat species for nesting sites. Parakeets like to nest within holes in tall trees, a site also preferred by birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and little owls. It has also been suggested that their overwhelming flock numbers and sheer noise may well deter other, smaller birds from feeding sites; again disrupting the balance of the local ecosystems. There is also a growing concern about the damage large swarms of these birds could do to agriculture. For now their populations seem fairly contained to urban areas but reports about their ability to decimate crops or fruit trees on allotments and within gardens presents a real worry should they start to migrate to countryside regions where access to crop farming could result in widespread damage.


In order to combat this, in 2009, governmental wildlife organisation Natural England added feral parakeets to the “general licence”, a list of wild species that can be lawfully culled without the need for specific permission. However, more recently in March 2021, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that no widespread cull of the ring-necked parakeet population in the UK is currently planned, suggesting the people at the top believe they do not present as severe a risk as some others suggest. That or they have just accepted that the parakeets numbers now are so overwhelming that a widespread cull would require too much in the way of resources and funding to complete.

Ring-necked parakeet (Canon EOS 1200D, Canon EF-S 55-250mm @ 250mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO 3200)

In support of the idea that the ring-necked parakeet is not as disrupted as first believed are reports that suggest wild numbers of the birds they compete with for nesting sites; the aforementioned woodpeckers, nuthatches and little owls, are actually all on the rise. Whilst the parakeets may wish to nest in similar settings as some native species it appears, for now at least, that they can all successfully coexist. In addition, an increase in the populations of birds of prey in London; including sparrowhawks, peregrine falcons and hobbies, mean that the ring-necked parakeets have a number of natural predators that potentially could keep their numbers in check. Ornithologist reports have witnessed all of the above birds predating on parakeets and, so long as the numbers at the top of the food chain remain stable, it suggests that the parakeet population can be kept somewhat in check by natural means.

 

It is difficult to predict what the future holds for these colourful invaders. Whether you love them or hate them it is fair to say they have become a staple of the London landscape, especially here in the southwest. In terms of photography, these birds are a great subject to work with - and one that I do not have to travel around the world to find. They may have arrived here in the capital unexpectedly but it appears they are here to stay and they are just one of a number of animal species that make being a London-based wildlife photographer far more exciting and adventurous than some might first expect.

Ring-necked parakeet (Canon EOS 1200D, Canon EF-S 55-250mm @ 250mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO 1600)



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