Dear Readers, the wind is whistling down the chimney, the rain is racketing on the skylight and the bird feeders are blowing almost horizontal in the gale, and yet I have indisputable evidence that, for some at least, spring is on the way. Earlier this week, during a muddy, blustery walk in my beloved Coldfall Wood, I heard an extraordinary cacophony coming from an area which has been coppiced, so it is a little more open than other parts of the forest. There is a large dead tree there which, with great wisdom, has been left standing. It was attracting a lot of attention.
The Ring-necked Parakeets, which I’ve written about in an earlier post, have arrived in force to look for nest sites. They investigated the dead tree with much interest, peering into holes, biting off chunks of bark and hanging almost upside down to make sure they had viewed their new ‘property’ from all angles. There was much ‘discussion’ about which was the best site, and much to-ing and fro-ing as each pair flew from hole to hole.
Here, we can see a pair – the male is the one with the dark ring around the neck. What handsome, unexpected birds they are, livening up the woods with all that lime green and teal blue, and the bright red of their beaks! They are Britain’s only parrots, and the RSPB estimates that there are about 8600 breeding pairs in the UK, nearly all of them in urban or suburban areas. A recent study showed that their presence at garden birdtables ‘put off’ other birds, but I would be interested to see, firstly, whether the parrots actually stay for very long, and also how they compare in deterrent effect with other large, energetic birds. Certainly, no one in my garden, not even the Woodpigeons, feeds near the Great Spotted Woodpecker or the Jay when he visits.
By staking a claim to their nest sites now, the parakeets gain an advantage over other birds, who won’t start pairing off until later in the year. By doing this, they compete with Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, who would normally use the holes. At present, though, there seems to be enough dead wood around, both in the wood and the cemetery nearby, for all three species to jog along nicely together.
In much of their range overseas, Ring-necked Parakeets have become a significant agricultural pest, and indeed Natural England have put them on their ‘General Licence’ of birds that can be shot without special permission if they are causing damage. One vineyard owner in Kent lost his entire crop of grapes when a flock of the birds descended and ate the lot. However, at present, this is a rare occurrence, and the sight of parakeets setting up home in a North London wood is more a cause for delight than trepidation. Let us be generous here, and enjoy these vivid, feisty birds as they bring a hint of the summer to come to our windswept, damp, dreary landscape.