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Monday
Dec292014

Parakeet Invasion; no longer representatives of British wildlife.

The Ring-necked Parakeet is a bright green bird with a distinctive pink coloured beak. Despite being native to the foothills of the Himalayas, they were unthoughtfully released into the wild from captivity in the 1990s. They have been successfully breeding and have now expanded across most parts of the South East, Surrey and Kent. Some have also been spotted in Manchester, Birmingham and even Edinburgh. They are said to be the largest invasive species to colonise the country.

Image courtesy of Peter aka anemoneprojectors

As pretty as these birds are, they seem to be causing negative impacts upon our native bird species, so much so that the issue is being compared to the invasive grey squirrels that wiped out our native red squirrels. They have the same diets as most of our birds here in the UK; berries, fruits, seeds and so this causes a lot of competition.

Being from the foothills of the Himalayas they have adapted well to our climate and are posing a threat towards many suburban bird-feeders in people’s gardens.  Research has shown that some of our native birds actually just avoid these birds due to the fact they are noisy and large in size. Such species like sparrows and finches have even been seen to avoid feeding from artificial bird-feeders.  It’s said that reduced feeding can cause lowered fitness and therefore threatens many of our bird populations that represent British wildlife. It is a concern that in the face of climate change with warmer temperatures in the UK, especially in southern Britain, each year that goes by our climate will become more favourable for this invasive species.

Image courtesy of dead cat

Population numbers of Parakeets have soared over the past two decades in parts of London, increasing up to 30% per year. In 2009, Natural England added Parakeets to its general license and so therefore this means that they can be culled in certain circumstances; strictly only if they pose a threat to human health or there is evidence of them damaging commercial crops. Essentially, this invasive species has the same legal status as our native pigeons, crows and magpies: pests.

Image courtesy of Archit Ratan

A recent report from London shows a hunter, who has posted a video demonstrating how to shoot them; using a fake bird painted like a parakeet, describing the pellets used and even practising on a squirrel first that falls victim to a pellet as it takes interest in the hunters’ bait he put out in his back garden. The fake bird decoy does entice wild parakeets to the bird-feeders, and the hunter does successfully shoot one down.

The RSPB strictly advises that this is not the solution to this problem. Under the general licence, there are rights to shoot them under specific guidelines only if commercial crops or public health are at risk. If you cannot prove there is just cause for actions, you’re not safe from prosecution. Shooting in this situation is very dangerous to public health in built up areas of London, it’s too compact and it should be left to authorities to deal with in urban areas.  

There’s more than one species

Monk Parakeets, ring-necked parakeets’ cousins native to forests of Brazil and Bolivia, are said to be causing mass destruction to electrical lines by building large nests upon them. These end up causing blackouts from the weight on the pylons and some have even caused fires. Even Defra has stated that they are a hazard to householders due to the droppings below their nests. It is not certain how they came to arrive to the UK but it’s believed to be the same reason as the others; released from captivity. Humane methods have been in place since 2011 to remove these birds costing £260,000, despite the RSPB disagreeing that culling is necessary. Others say that threats to National infrastructure will only heighten with the increasing warmer climates in the future. The population of monk parakeets is now down to the last 50 birds.

Image courtesy of awayukin

On the other hand, there is an estimate of around 8,600 breeding pairs of ring-necked parakeet across the UK and therefore it’s said it’s now no longer cost-effective or viable to eradicate the species. This means we will have to deal with the on-going environmental, economic and social impacts these birds pose a threat to, says Defra. They say this is also why we take vital action against invasive non-native species, like the control of the monk parakeet, sooner rather than later- the ring-necks are now 'as British as Curry'.

By Annabel Field

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