The Parakeet Invasion of England
This green and pleasant land is quickly becoming home to a green and not so pleasant bird. The Rose-Ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri), an exotic bird from India and sub-Saharan Africa is spreading like wildfire in London and its surrounding suburbs. Their population was estimated at 1,500 in 1995. Only a few years ago, their numbers have jumped to an estimated 30,000! At first they seemed like a new attractive bird in people's backyards. Now they are a pest, hogging bird feeders and causing a nuisance. However, the greatest fear is that they will spread to agricultural areas and threaten crops.
Researchers from Imperial College London are conducting a scientific census of the parakeets to get a clear handle on what the country is dealing with. Their study, termed Project Parakeet, has enlisted volunteer birders to perform simultaneous counts. They mark down roost sites as well as the approximate number found at each. So far, 10 roost sites have been located, each having over 50 parakeets. The birders also search for fallen parakeet feathers to determine their range.
The parakeet invasion is being taken quite seriously by England, which has never faced such a rapid wildlife invasion. For example, the gray squirrel took centuries to achieve their dominion over England, whereas the parakeet has conquered the London area in only 16 years. Most scientists had thought that the tropical bird was poorly adapted to the harsh English winter. Previously, they had been confined to the indoors, kept in pet cages and zoos. Some were released or escaped, but nobody believed they would thrive in the cool northern latitudes.
So how do they do it? Some believe that this exotic bird can survive because of all the exotic plants homeowners put in their yards. They are basically importing the birds' food. Others believe it is because homeowners are putting out more bird feeders. Others believe it is linked to the climate, which is slightly warmer than it has historically been. This could increase the parakeet's metabolism are cause a decline in their predators. However, the past two winters have been frigidly cold, and they survived just fine.
"The jury's out," said Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. "I'm not aware of any predators being removed. I'm not aware of any environmental trigger that set this off. I'm not convinced that climate is playing into it."
The parakeet population explosion remains a mystery. Wildlife authorities are anxiously awaiting the results of Project Parakeet in the hope that it will reveal some clues. As of today, the rose-ringed parakeet has been officially made an enemy of state, making it legal to kill them without a hunting license.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), claims that invasive species like the parakeet cost the British economy 1.7 billion pounds every year. They are encouraging the trapping, re-homing, and even the shooting of the parakeet. However, this has provoked criticism from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which does not want the birds to be shot. England has to decide on what is the best way to get these unwanted birds out.
For more information: http://www.projectparakeet.co.uk/index.html