Monday 16 July 2018

The Rose ringed Parakeets of Kensington Gardens 3rd July 2018

Rose ringed Parakeets are a non native species of parrot that has become naturalized in England since 1969 when captive birds either escaped or were deliberately released and they have increased ever since, so that as of 2015 the population in the UK was 31,100 and is likely to be even more now.

They are normally native to Central and West Africa and the Indian sub continent and it is considered that the birds now breeding and thriving in Britain are of the sub species that inhabits India. They are robust and can easily withstand British winters and as a consequence their numbers are continually increasing. Their raucous calls and bright green plumage, together with the fact they are essentially an urban bird, mainly concentrated in the populous southeast of England, means Rose ringed Parakeets have become a familiar bird to those living in London and the counties around the city. I can recall going to see a huge roost of 6000 birds at Esher Rugby Club in Surrey some years ago and also hearing and seeing them flying around every day when I worked at London Heathrow Airport. We even have a small population in Oxfordshire at Henley and there are now other small, scattered populations in Liverpool, Studland in Dorset and south Manchester.

The media, usually ill informed but when did that ever get in the way of a good story, are occasionally fond of suggesting they need to be culled as they breed in holes in trees and consequently may have a deleterious effect on British hole nesting bird species such as starlings and woodpeckers but there is no suggestion this is going to happen, although the situation is being monitored by the RSPB.

My wife goes to London once a week on business and she came back from one of these trips to inform me that on walking through Kensington Gardens by The Serpentine, to view a huge waterborne modern sculpture by Christo called The Mastaba, she came across a mass of tourists feeding some Rose ringed Parakeets, that were so familiarised with humans they were flying down from the surrounding trees and perching on the tourist's heads, arms and hands as they held out apples for the birds to feed on.

I felt that I too would like to go and see The Mastaba and at the same time I could also take in the parakeet/tourist experience which was only a few hundred metres away from the sculpture. So the following week I accompanied my wife to London and made my way to Lancaster Gate and crossed into Kensington Gardens.

It was another day of sunshine and warmth in this marvellous and so very welcome summer we are experiencing as I walked by The Serpentine and through the populous gardens. I could be in no doubt as to where the parakeets were, for soon their loud, harsh cries could be heard as they regularly rent the air. Walking in the direction of the calls and on turning a corner I discovered a mass of tourists, mainly from abroad, judging by all the different languages being spoken, standing under the
overhanging trees holding out apples to which the parakeets were attracted, flying down to perch on their arms and then sidle down them to feed out of their hands.

Some even perched on the heads of people and two, maybe three at a time, would perch on someone, bickering amongst themselves as they fought to eat a proffered apple or fighting over discarded apples on the ground.

I estimated there were between twenty to thirty parakeets present, perching in the trees, screeching loudly, peering down from the branches above and then, presumably when they fancied some more apple, flying to perch on the tourists outstretched arms. In the sunlit trees the parrot's yellowish green  plumage merged surprisingly well with the sun dappled leaves of the trees they chose to perch in, so that, often, they were hard to notice until they moved.

It was quite a scene and obviously gave great pleasure to the tourists, especially the children and a free meal to the parakeets. More importantly it also provided a rare opportunity for people, especially the children, who will be growing up into a world where disconnection from nature  is becoming ever more prevalent to connect with the natural world for absolutely free and enjoy a moment of intimacy with a wild creature. 

The majority of parakeets that I could see appeared to be females or young birds and I could find only a few adult males amongst them but what beautiful birds these males are. Basically you could call them green but the varied shades of green, its intensity in places such as on the head and shot with bluish iridescence on the tail made it far from the mundane. Under the tail and wings the feathers were lemon yellow and on the head a rose pink half collar wrapped around the side and rear of the bright emerald green head, the collar suffused by a blush of palest blue and the other half of the collar, black this time, ran under the neck and formed into a black bib. Top this off with a raspberry pink bill and long pointed tail and you have a real looker.

Male Rose ringed Parakeet
Oh! I did  see The Masataba which  was huge, almost too big for its surroundings and dominated The Serpentine. A truly amazing sight. I also had time to view Henry Moore's sculpture The Arch on the opposite side of The Serpentine before I left, so felt my day in London had also been a success culturally.

The Mastaba by Christo

The Arch by Henry Moore
On the way home I reflected on whether the parakeets would be so well attended come the winter months but who wants to think about that while the sun shines on and the air is warm and balmy every day.


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