Who needs to holiday abroad these days for the touch of the exotic?
This Blog is part of the DIVERSIFLY project: For more details on the project go here
When I was eighteen I was luck enough to spend nine months in Australia. One of my strongest memories is just driving into town to go to the supermarket and seeing a parrot or parakeet fly past my windscreen. My first thought, each time, was that it must have escaped from a zoo!
These days you can get that same experience just walking through a park, under a tree or looking out at your birdfeeder, if you live in the more Southern part of Britain.
While there are a couple of different species of parrots living wild in pockets of land across the city, the largest colonies of most-commonly-seen, wild London, parrots are feral rose-ringed parakeets. These birds are a prolific Afro-Asian species, identifiable by their bright green colouration and, on the male of the species, distinctive red ring around the neck. A mature adult bird stands around 40cm tall, including the tail feathers, and they have a loud and piercing squawking call. Parrot colonies have only resided in London in significant numbers since the 1990’s, though there have been reports of escaped parakeets as far back as the mid 1800’s – and various theories have been put forward to explain their presence: it has also been suggested that a flock of the birds escaped from London’s Ealing studios during the filming of The African Queen; that a container of the birds fell open at Heathrow airport; that a large aviary collapsed during the storms of 1987; that it was Jimi Hendrix who released his pet pair… perhaps while singing ‘Freedom’.
A study by the Natural History Museum, the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College, London, discovered that other garden birds ate less whenever the bigger parakeets flew into sight, and that they moved away from the parakeets’ regular haunts. The study also said parakeets had a ‘significant’ effect on the foraging practices of native birds, particularly blue tits and great tits, and compared parakeets with the grey squirrels that have largely driven out red squirrels across Britain.Their distinctive squawking call — so enchanting when heard for the first time — is not so bewitching, apparently, when it’s screamed by 100 parakeets from the tree tops in your local park.
You can read a poem about parakeets here, and if you own The Poetry of Birds (Penguin Books 2011) on page 111 you will find a poem titled Bird Lady by Peter Reading about how we have helped the parakeet survive our cold winters by feeding them so well, however inadvertently, by keeping our birdfeeders well-stocked. Grace Nicholls has a poem called Parakeets here on The Aviary website – and it starts:
Do you live near parakeets? What do you think of them? What must they think of Britain?
There are other ‘Exotics” in the 21st century Britain bird population…
The BBC Earth team in 2015 reported that:
Bee-eaters are one of Europe’s most striking and colourful birds, normally found nesting in southern Europe. They are very rare breeders in the UK, but visits have increased in recent years. The recent discovery of two pairs of bee-eaters raising chicks at a quarry in Cumbria, has led to speculation that they are on the verge of colonising the UK.
Mark Thomas from the RSPB says ““Bee-eater sightings have been on the increase: pushed northwards by climate change, these exotic birds will likely become established visitors to our shores”.
And then there are Hoopoes…
As far as I know Hoopoes do not breed in Britain, but do visit every spring and summer – apparently some Hoopoes, migrating north to Europe from Africa, overshoot and land on the south coast of England.
I have never seen one but am told they are the size of a Mistle Thrush.. though as you can see from the picture they are somewhat more arresting in their plumage! Even their name is rather wonderful, isn’t it? I assume they are named, like so many birds, after the sound they make – like a pan pipe? – they go hoop,hoop, hoop, hoopall on the same note, full and resonant.
The first 2 lines of a poem about the Hoopoe written in South Africa by Stephen Gray and which can be read in full here are:
spattered in fertile mud, decurved beak;
Hoopoe – George Darley
Minstrel winged of the green wild!
What dost thou delaying here,
Like a wood-bewildered child
Weeping to his far-flown troop,
Whoop! and plaintive whoop! and whoop!
Now from rock and now from tree,
Bird! methinks thou whoop’st to me,
Flitting before me upward still
With clear warble, as I’ve heard
Oft on my native Northern hill
No less wild and lone a bird,
Luring me with his sweet chee-chee
Up the mountain crags which he
Tript as lightly as a bee,
O’er steep pastures, far among
Thickets and briary lanes along,
Following still a fleeting song!
If such my errant nature, I
Vainly to curb or coop it try
Now that the sundrop through my frame
Kindles another soul of flame!
Whoop on, whoop on, thou canst not wing
Too fast or far, thou well-named thing,
Hoopoe, if of that tribe which sing
Articulate in the desert ring!
Climate Change is having a huge effect on what wildlife we see in Britain, and where in Britain
Here are some images I have found online:
And here are a few links with some more information :
The Telegraph warns in 2009 of Exotic bird invasion
Mail Online on 50,000 parakeets
RSPB on Hoopoe, with audio
Living with birds website – 21 facts on Hoopoe
This Blog is part of a series of Blogs that are part of the Fair Acre Press project – DIVERSIFLY: everyday encounters with the birds of Britain’s towns and cities. For more details on the project go here