Dear Readers, today I was going to write something about the varied invertebrate life of Borneo, but events this morning have necessitated a quick change of plan. I was standing at my window, cleaning my teeth and wondering whether cleaning out the freezer was more of a priority than sorting out my desk when there was a flurry of grass-green feathers and this bird arrived in the cherry tree next door. Foaming at the mouth (literally) I ran for my camera only for the battery to die. How those wildlife photographers manage to capture images of anything, I have no idea. But the parakeet was a very obliging bird, and so I had plenty of opportunity to both admire him and to take a few shots.
I know that, for many people, rose-ringed parakeets are pests. I have seen them taking over the nesting holes in Coldfall Wood, eating the cherry blossom, and behaving like a bunch of noisy hooligans. They are the living embodiment of the worst neighbours you can imagine – they hang out in gangs, they are always making a racket and stick a finger up at social distancing. But just look at them. This one first surveyed all the feeders to decide which worked best, and then got stuck into the sunflower hearts, delicately plucking them out one at a time and testing them on his tongue to make sure they were to his liking. As with crows, you can feel their brains working.
This one is a very fine adult male – the black collar, and the pale-pink nape, are missing in the female. As they are early nesters, this one could already have a couple of parrotlets in a tree hole somewhere. I always thought that parakeets mated for life, but apparently this is not so: the birds might stick together, or they might choose a new partner every spring. Whichever they do, the birds will defend a nesting site right through the winter, which is why they can get going so early when spring rolls around.
In these times of lockdown, the view from my kitchen window seems more and more important, especially at the moment, when my Dad’s passing occupies a lot of my thoughts. He was always so eager to point out something new that he’d seen, and so I come by the tendency honestly. A parakeet in the garden is not a novelty for many people, but in the ten years that I’ve lived in East Finchley I have had only one or two brief visits from these birds, and those were fleeting. Rose-ringed parakeets bring a touch of the exotic to my garden, and I can never see one without hearing the voice of David Attenborough. I was delighted to see one in the garden this morning, and it makes me think of all these tales of ‘nature returning to the city’. Someone else mentioned that they’d seen a red kite soaring over Coldfall Wood this morning. I suspect that in many places, nature is not ‘returning to the city’ (although the lack of people and the improvement in air pollution will certainly be helping). I think that we are just noticing what is already there.
Rose-ringed parakeets in the wild have two distinct populations: one in a broad belt right across Africa, and one that encompasses Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Romans kept the African parakeets as pets, and the ancient Greeks kept the Indian ones. In captivity the birds can learn to talk, and a blue morph of the parakeet has been developed. But these adaptable birds are best known for their feral populations all over the world. In the UK the jury still seems to be out about how much competition they create for nest holes for other species, such as woodpeckers and stock doves: both of these species seem to co-exist with the parakeets in Coldfall Wood, but it would need a survey over time to be sure. I read a study of the social impact of parakeets in a book called ‘The Parakeeting of London – An Adventure in Gonzo Ornithology‘, and it really showed how our attitudes to parakeets can be more or less predicted from our attitudes to other social issues. It’s also a very good read.
Will the parakeet be back with a whole host of little friends, I wonder? Will they soon be unraveling the wire on the birdfeeders and picking the buds off the whitebeam? I am in the mood for welcoming, for embracing our wildlife even as we can’t embrace one another. Life is too short to be picky about who gets the sunflower seeds.