Sunday, 23 February 2014

Birds of East Kent: Ring-necked Parakeet

Latest in an occasional series of posts discussing the different birds that can be found in East Kent and how easy (or not) it is to get a decent picture of them.

This series isn't intended to cover every species of bird that lives in or visits East Kent - I haven't seen them all for one thing (let alone photographed them) - but there's one particular bird that can't be ignored ... mainly because it's so damn noisy.

It seems few birds divide opinion more in this country than the Ring-necked Parakeet. And, as with any divisive species, several urban myths have sprung up around them - in particular the subject of where they came from. Two stories crop up with predictable regularity; one being a mass escape from the set of the 1951 film The African Queen; the other being a deliberate attempt to liven up the British skyline by none other than Jimi Hendrix (though don't you think the Scarlet Macaw would have been more Jimi's style?). The somewhat more prosaic truth is that parakeets have been escaping into the wild since Victorian times, and any releases by Hendrix (or indeed Bogart and Hepburn) would have served only to enrich an already growing population.

Thanet holds possibly the largest concentration of parakeets outside London. They've colonised all the major parks, and the trees at Ramsgate train station form a prominent roost site. I've seen them as far west as Grove Ferry, but - as far as I'm aware - they haven't made any significant incursions into the woodlands surrounding Canterbury. (Correct me in the Comments if you know better.)

Photography-wise, the biggest challenge may be finding a way to get the whole bird in your camera's viewfinder without cropping the end off its extremely long tail. King George VI Park is a reliable place to get close to them (they're largely indifferent to passers-by so you can generally walk right up to them) or, if you've got bird feeders or apple trees in your garden, you can wait for them to find you.

For me at least, the novelty of seeing a bright green parrot balancing on a feeder that plainly wasn't designed for it (while another one hangs upside down from a washing line) has yet to wear off. I admit it: I'm a fan of the parakeets, but then again I don't own an orchard. They're intelligent and resourceful birds with lots of character, and if you close your eyes when you hear them you can at least imagine you're in a more exotic part of the world than Planet Thanet.

So what does the future hold for the parakeets? Will they spread across the country like a plague of green locusts, eating everything in their path? Will they gather on the rooftops like a green-tinted Hitchcockian nightmare, squawking so loudly that everyone goes deaf or mad (or both)? In centuries to come will alien explorers wander through the ruined cities to find the last humans huddling in mute subservience to their parakeet overlords? With their fast flight and powerful beaks, are there even any natural predators capable of taking them on? After witnessing a beleaguered kestrel being seen off by a green mob I had my doubts, but recently I saw four panic-stricken parakeets being pursued across the skies of Broadstairs by a Peregrine Falcon (putting the old advice to "eat more greens" in an entirely new light). So perhaps the proliferation of the parakeet is good news for at least one of our native species.

See also:
More of my parakeet photos on Flickr
Ring-necked Parakeet (RSPB)
Ring-necked Parakeet (Birdforum)
Ring-necked Parakeet (Birdguides)

Ring-necked Parakeet (Non Native Species Secretariat)