Escaped parakeets go wild

In early January, Charlotte Barford was surprised to see a bright green bird in her garden. “I had to look twice. My initial thought was it must be someone’s escaped pet!” After she posted a photo on Facebook, others confirmed that it was a now wild parakeet.

Although only a few sightings of parakeets have been reported in Oundle and local villages, they have been seen at Ferry Meadows, and last year the Northamptonshire Bird Club reported breeding residents at Abington Park near Northampton.

Parakeets are small to medium-sized species of parrot that can be found across the world and have 155 known sub-species. The parakeets that have been seen in England are more specifically rose-ringed parakeets, or psittacula krameri, and are endemic to Africa and Southern Asia. The rose-ringed parakeet is easily identified by its lime green body, and its distinctive black and red ring around its neck.

The sightings within Oundle and Northamptonshire are few and far between, and the parakeets are more commonly found around the greater-London area. Although there have been sightings as far north as Yorkshire, these birds prefer the abundant food and slightly warmer temperatures of the city and its surrounding countryside.

Birdwatcher Noah Wood keeps a close watch on local bird populations. He said: “I saw one about twenty years ago on the Oundle pitches, but these are rare sightings in this part of the UK.”

It is suspected that the population of parakeets within the UK is largely down to how common it is for people to keep them as pets. As an exotic looking bird, yet cheap and abundant in Africa and Southern Asia, it is a popular choice for those who fancy a bird as a companion. There are about 50,000 living in the wild now due to the large number of escaped parakeets.

It is not clear how the first bird was introduced to Britain, and there are a number of stories that include Humphrey Bogart, a plane crash at Syon Park and the great storm of 1987. My favourite theory is that the lineage of the UK wild parakeet population originated with the release of a pair of parakeets by legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Many believe that it was this pair that gave birth to the thriving population of these beautiful birds. Scientists cannot provide any evidence to back any of the stories, though.

If you happen to see a parakeet flying around the skies of Oundle, count yourself lucky, for now. The RSPB is expecting populations to keep on increasing, so they might be just as common as the house sparrow in years to come.

Digby Pratt
May 2021