Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Green For Go

Another Bird Blog often highlights bird species that are in decline. Today I feature a bird in the ascendancy but the story is not one that lifts the spirits. It is more a tale of man’s inability to recognise and face up to an environmental problem that is not only all too apparent, but once again, mainly of man’s own making. 

I first encountered Ring-necked Parakeets Psittacula krameri in India in 1996 when Sue and I took the Shatabdi Express from Delhi to Agra in pursuit of experiencing the legendary Taj Mahal. Incomparable it was. Standing majestic on the banks of the River Yamuna, the white marble and ornamentation of the Taj Mahal was everything and more that books and TV led us to expect. Huge lumps formed in our throats as we walked the central path towards the monument and then waited in turn to rest on Diana’s Seat. A few Rupees later we had our picture taken and then later brought as if like magic to the return train for Delhi. 
The Taj Mahal, Agra - 1996

We explored the beautifully manicured grounds of the palace where several species of vultures and Black Kites circled overhead. Hundreds of Ring-necked Parakeets squawked from the tree tops and then squawked some more as they flew in all directions.  Ring-necked Parakeets are endemic to India and to warmer climates in Northern Africa and Southern Asia.

Even then in 1996 it was obvious to me that here in its natural environment of Garden India was a highly successful, abundant, and from its general demeanour, an aggressive species. In India, the late Salim Ali, an ornithologist known as ‘the Birdman of India’, referred to the parakeet as ‘one of the most destructive birds’ and one that was a serious agricultural pest. 

Ring-necked Parakeet at Agra - CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Ring-necked Parakeets as cage bird pets have been easily available and quickly bought via UK pet shops and bird dealers for many years for less than £100. A “ charming, exotic bird, with its bright green feathers, long tail, red beak and black and pink ring around the neck and face”. 

Ring-necked Parakeet

By coincidence and around the time on my return to England in early 1996 the species began to accquire something of a novelty status to British bird watchers. Parakeets in the “wild” became a bird to “twitch”, even though the origins of such birds as escapees or deliberate releases were evident. Having seen the damned things in India I can well understand how having bought one in good faith, a cage bird devotee might quickly tire of the species’ extreme noise and aggressive nature.

The uniquely British but simplest way of dealing with a pet that has outlived its novelty value is to release it into the wild. At the same time this allows the owner to reflect that the animal is now free to continue its life while at the same time absolving the owner of guilt in the alternative of euthanasia of the poor creature. What a quick and painless solution to a vexing problem. 

Ring-necked Parakeet

Thus became the origins of a quickly burgeoning population of firstly feral and then increasing wild Ring-necked Parakeets, many thousands of miles from their rightful niche in natural evolution. The species is now well established in Britain, where it is the most northerly, wild breeding parrot species.

Over recent years, the British population has exploded until in 1983 the population was estimated at around 500 to 1,000, largely in South East England. By 2002 the population had increased to around 6,000. A 2010 study put the number at 30,000 with current day estimates of as many as 50,000 individuals and 8,000 breeding pairs, with colonies in Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Tyneside and Manchester.

Thankfully they are not in any great numbers in the part of Lancashire I live, where the less than ancient woodland gives fewer opportunities for the tree-hole nests they require. However, in many parts of Britain there is increasing concern that parakeets which nest in February possess the wherewithal to out-compete native, cavity-nesting species that breed later. Native tree-hole nesting species at risk include the Jackdaw, Stock Dove, Kestrel, Starling, Nuthatch, Little Owl, Green Woodpecker and even the Tawny Owl. 

Ring-necked Parakeet at nest site. By CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The growing population of Ring-necked Parakeets is also becoming a serious concern in relation to the parakeets’ impact on the foraging behaviour of small native garden feeding birds. The Ring-necked Parakeet has taken to British gardens in a big way with studies that suggest parakeets will spend half their time on bird-feeders, gorging on their favourite foods of seeds, nuts, berries and fruit. 

But bird-loving Brits may be feeding the parakeets at the expense of other species, as a recent study in Behavioral Ecology found that presence of parakeets leads to increased vigilance and decreased feeding in our native birds. Furthermore it found that these behavioural changes are much more pronounced than in the presence of a normally dominant native species such as the Great Spotted Woodpecker. 

The study concentrated on the effects in Great and Blue Tits, two common species in urban areas. Study of feeding stations suggested that the parakeets introduce a spatial shift in the tits' foraging behaviour which, if consistent, could feasibly cause reductions in the population of the common birds. If proven, this would represent the first case of such impact by non-native avian species in Britain, though a similar established case concerns the Grey Squirrel, another non-native species responsible for driving out the Red Squirrel. 

Ring-necked Parakeet

In 2010 the Ring-necked Parakeet became an official “agricultural pest” and as such, alongside Wood Pigeons, Carrion Crows and Magpies, they can be killed legally without special permission as long as damage is caused to crops. 

After the latest studies and news about their negative impact on our endemic bird population maybe it’s time we seriously considered removing for good the Ring-necked Parakeet from Wild Britain. Perhaps it's time we pressed Green for Go before it is too late?


Prunella Pepperpot said...

A beautiful looking bird but very sad it's been recklessly released into the UK at the cost of our own native species. Fortunately I haven't seen any around here.
Have a wonderful Wednesday :)

David Gascoigne said...

Believe me, Phil, releasing pets into the wild is far from being a uniquely British phenomenon. It happens all over North America all the time. Even public education seems to have no effect. But I am curious about the picture from the Taj Mahal - the lovely young lady must surely be with her father!!

Linda said...

Such a beautiful bird, Phil.

Margaret Adamson said...

Such a lovely looking bird but as yet has not made itover to N.Ireland. Pity it has turned out to be a pest

Stuart Price said...

Never actually seen one in the wild in the UK. I had no idea there were so many. A bit sad if it comes to pass but maybe a cull is necessary (like the Ruddy Duck).

Lowcarb team member said...

It is a lovely looking bird and so colourful - have to say I don't think I have spotted one!

Love the photo by The Taj Mahal.

All the best Jan

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