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PARAKEETING COMES NORTH

Posted: 23.12.20 in Articles category

I am writing this on the winter solstice. It's dark, wet and misty as befits the shortest day of the year. Factor in the latest grim news about the Covid 19 pandemic and there's little cause for cheer. Yet for me today's gloom has been spectacularly pierced by a splash of vivid colours. Bright green hues and a smidgin of red. I have just seen my first Geordie parakeets!

Of course I have seen Ring-necked Parakeets before... down south. My first was in my parent's garden in Kent back in 1989, and various trips to London since have sometimes included viewings of flocks of parakeets, squawking noisily as they fly. A visit to the excellent London Wetland Centre last October provided plenty of close encounters while I sat in the outdoor cafe - birds perched on surrounding bushes or flying overhead. It was there that I discovered the book by Nick Hunt, 'The Parakeeting of London', which tells the extraordinary story of these birds colonising the city. And it is an extraordinary story. Hunt tracks their progress, in his words "from park to cemetery to riverbank", and he explores the surprising fact that nobody knows with any certainty how the birds arrived in London. Myths about their origins abound. Did some imported pets escape from Heathrow Airport animal reception centre? Did some fly away from a breached aviary during the Great Storm of 1987? Or was it a stoned Jimi Hendrix releasing birds in 1968 when he lived close to Carnaby Street? Nick Hunt's book recounts a number of these stories, and it makes for a good and funny read. He delights in speaking to Londoners from all walks of life for their opinions of the parakeets, and he finds that everyone he interviews has opinions - often strong:

"Some loved them. Some hated them. Some welcomed their presence. Some resented it. Some alternated between opinions that were completely contradictory, switching from one to the other depending on the attribute being discussed: their colour (beautiful), their noise (horrendous), their adaptability (admirable), their rate of expansion (alarming). Londoners, like the inhabitants of most other capital cities, have a reputation for being hurried, unfriendly, snobbish, impatient, rude and incurious. Perhaps they can seem this way at first. But like the weather - that dependable backbone of British social interaction - the shared experience of the parakeets provided an instant connection, enabling us to have conversations we would never otherwise have had...."

Parakeeting isn't confined to London. According to Nick Hunt, Ring-necked Parakeets have spread up the motorways to establish urban colonies as far north as Glasgow, and as a consequence the British Isles has the most northerly wild parrot population in the world numbering many thousand. I don't know when they arrived in North East England, but the species was added in 2014 to the official county list for Northumberland (which includes the city of Newcastle for avian recording) and it seems is spreading across Tyneside. Although I have known about these Geordie parakeets for several years, I have never felt the urge to go and see them until now. I am glad I did. On a gloomy day in late December, at the end of a strange and at times depressing year, seeing 8 brightly coloured parakeets in Heaton Park lifted my spirits!

 
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