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The great London parakeet mystery has been solved (maybe)

Written by
El Hunt

Over the past decade, London has experienced a sharp rise in the number of parakeets fluttering their way around the city. The medium-sized green parrots are native to South Asia and Central Africa. How on earth they found their way to London is something of a mystery, but you can see them around town, from Croydon to Crouch End. And you’ve been googling it en masse.

There are some bizarre theories about how ring-necked parakeets arrived in London. Did Jimi Hendrix release a breeding pair in Carnaby Street in 1968? Did they escape from the set of the film ‘The African Queen’ in 1951? Did they make a bid for freedom from English aviaries that got damaged in the Great Storm of 1987? Or are these birds simply escaped pets who flocked together to form a bright green feral gang?

Now, scientists from Queen Mary University, UCL and Goldsmiths think they’ve found the answer. They believe that sensationalised media coverage around ‘parrot fever’ (a potentially fatal disease called psittacosis, which can spread between birds and humans) led to separate spates of owners deliberately releasing their pet parakeets. Researchers have narrowed it down to two time frames (1929-1931 and 1952) and both dates coincide with dramatic news coverage around the dangers of parrot fever. Move over, Sherlock Holmes!

So how did they work it out? Well, scientists from the three universities mapped half a century of sightings using geographic profiling; the technique is usually used in criminology to track down suspects for serial crimes. The resulting parrot heat map, which compiles around 5,000 unique records, shows the capital’s parakeet hotspots. Worton Hall Studios, Syon Park, Carnaby Street and other locations associated with the various parakeet myths didn’t show up in this analysis as prominent spots.

Instead, it’s believed that London’s parakeet population is down to pets being released over many years – partly as a result of fake news. Looks like those colourful myths are strictly for the birds. 

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