Monday, May 23, 2022
HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: The Parakeet Regiment

Notes from the Sticks: The Parakeet Regiment

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WHEN we lived in London we used to see and hear a lot of ring-necked parakeets. In my opinion they are beautiful birds, bright green and a brilliant exotic sight, and I loved seeing them on our feeders.

However they are not universally popular. They are accused of turfing native birds such as woodpeckers out of their nesting holes, though during our twenty-odd years in London the populations of both species seemed to be thriving. I have to say that on one occasion as we walked through woodland we heard a commotion involving shrieking parakeets above. After a while a small object drifted to the ground; it turned out to be the tail of a baby grey squirrel.

Ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri), which are also called rose-ringed parakeets, are parrots. (The term ‘parakeet’ technically applies only to the budgerigars of Australia.)

They are about the size of a pigeon and they fly fast and straight, usually calling loudly.

They are native to Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and have long been popular as pets in Britain. According to the Natural History Museum there are records of them living wild here in the 19th century, but they came to widespread public notice in the 1950s in and around London. There was a theory that some escaped from the set of the 1951 film The African Queen, which was partly shot at Isleworth Studios in West London (Middlesex in those days), and another rumour was that Jimi Hendrix released a pair in Carnaby Street. It is now accepted that today’s population derives from escapes and deliberate releases. In the 1950s, there was a scare about people catching the respiratory disease psittacosis. Caged parakeets may have been released by owners or pet traders during this time.

Since they gained a foothold in London and Kent, they have spread around the country (though separate populations may derive from separate escapes or releases).  In Lancashire I have not seen any yet, but they have got as far as Manchester and Preston, and further north to Glasgow and Edinburgh, so I expect they will find our bird feeders before long and I will be pleased to see them.

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The ivy controversy: Several trees round here came down in the recent storms and most were covered in ivy, like this one. It does seem to lend weight to the argument that ivy is not good for them.

I repeat that the Woodland Trust insists ivy does no harm to healthy trees, and I ask again why they would make it up when their stated mission is to protect trees? Of course the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds does no such thing, but wind turbines are allegedly ‘green’ as well as generating a lot of money for their owners. Is there a hidden Leftie ivy lobby?

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A tiny tragedy: In September I wrote about finding a mystery growth on a wild rose. 

It turned out to be a ‘Robin’s pincushion’, produced by the rose in response to a gall wasp laying its eggs in a bud. It nourishes the growing larvae and shelters them as pupae over the winter until they emerge as adults in May. I have been keeping an eye on it and several times I have wondered if I should snip it off and put it somewhere safe in case the hedge trimmers come along. Last week they did come – I raced to the spot hoping to be in time to save the gall, now brown and shrivelled, but I was too late. We have so few insects these days that I feel we can’t afford to waste any.

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I know, I know – I’m obsessed. But I cannot resist concluding the tale of the partly filled pothole, one of many on our country road.

This was it until a couple of weeks ago:

This was it after the hole-fillers came round about ten days ago (picture taken from the other side):

And, below, this is it now. Two visits to fill a smallish pothole, and no doubt the repair will start coming apart soon.

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Regular readers know that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Here is her latest report:


London – No sparrows or starlings, once a common sight. Plenty of parakeets!

North Yorkshire – a reader has two pairs of jays in her garden regularly but since their arrival no longer sees woodpeckers.

Saffron Walden, Essex – mature oaks usually have bumper crops of acorns. Last June (21) noticed very few immature acorns dropping in June and by autumn there were no acorns at all.

The same week I received another report of no acorns.

Norfolk – This resident believes it could be due to Knopper gall wasp. In 2020 every acorn was distorted. Again few house flies last summer and although the red wasp put in an appearance there were few common wasps. Not as many goldfinches but a pet shop owner three miles away has plenty in her garden! A worrying presence of the European hornet for past few years but none last year.

Kingston-upon-Thames – A stag beetle has been regularly seen in the garden until last summer when it was not sighted. Possibly due to garden clearance which may have accidentally destroyed its habitat.

New Deer, Aberdeenshire –No sightings of a dipper in local burn for a few years and no burying beetles [also known as sexton beetles] for a longer period of time. Vastly reduced collared doves (once saw 17 on a nearby tree!) Fewer swallows and birds generally.

North Kerry – Very few wild rabbits but abundance of birds and bats.

Ramsgate, Kent – No herons this year.

Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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