UPDATE: Has the great parakeet mystery been solved? Researchers think so…
Over the last decade or so, London has seen the unlikely spread of feral ring-necked parakeets: a species of small parrot whose native range extends across South Asia and Central Africa. First sighted in Dulwich in the 1890s, and for a long time a quirky feature of Kingston upon Thames, the flocks have now colonised green spaces the length and breadth of the capital, from Croydon to Crouch End.
Accustomed in their native range to the Himalayan foothills, they are unruffled by mild English winters. The last official roost count, in 2012, recorded 32,000 parakeets in London. Now there must be many, many more. As extraordinary as it seems, these bright birds are starting to become one of the most commonly seen – and heard – creatures in the city. And here’s the even more extraordinary thing: no one knows how they got here.
Theories abound. Did Jimi Hendrix release a breeding pair on Carnaby Street in 1968? Did they escape from the set of the film ‘The African Queen’ in 1951? Did they make their bid for freedom during the Great Storm of 1987?
Sadly, the likeliest theory is the dullest: that they escaped from multiple cages, and – being a smart, sociable and highly adaptable species – lost no time in flocking together and finding nesting sites. But whatever the truth behind their expansion, London’s parakeets are well on their way to becoming a ubiquitous feature of city life.
‘The Parakeeting of London: An Adventure in Gonzo Ornithology’ by Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell is published by Paradise Road.