Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Pets Become Pests ...



It's not every day that a London bird makes the evening news on Italian TV. But the other night there was a short feature on the bird which is probably now the most frequently seen visitor in my London garden - the rose ringed parakeet.

I posted about them two years ago, the last time I was in London, talking about how they are increasing exponentially and the problems they are causing. This year they were even more in evidence. The population is now generally supposed to be about 30,000 with the RSPB predicting 50,000 by 2010 - all descendants of escaped pets (or if you believe some reports, of a flock which escaped from Shepperton Studios during the filming of the Bogart/Hepburn movie The African Queen. Whaat?! You mean that river was really the Thames??)

I always look forward to seeing them in the garden when I go back. They're great to watch : colourful and very funny. They're clowns who give a circus performance every time they fly in. But I can see why - and this is what got them onto the Italian news - they have now officially been listed as vermin. Which means that they can now legally be killed, under general license, by landowners who can show that they are damaging their property.

And they do cause damage, as my neighbour - who has four or five fruit trees in her garden knows. I doubt if she got a single item of fruit this year which didn't have a large lump taken out of it.


OK, maybe if they're in your garden you put up with it. I would, and my neighbour didn't seem particularly bothered. Even if she was, the new law certainly doesn't give householders carte blanche to start killing the birds. The general license list specifies particular reasons for which specific birds may be killed, including damage to crops, health and safety risks, and threats to other wildlife. Anyone killing a bird on the list without one of these reasons faces a £5,000 fine or a six-month prison sentence. For the ring-necked parakeets, one of the reasons accepted is crop damage. Fruit trees in the back garden may not count as "crops", but the birds are causing considerable problems for commercial fruit growers in Kent and other areas, and I can well understand that they might consider culling.

The second justification specified is because of the threat to other wildlife. The parakeets have also been accused of causing a vast reduction in the numbers of other species of birds. They nest in hollow trees and have simply moved into all the available space, leaving nothing for the other species. Controversy rages about how true this is, but something is clearly displacing the tree-nesters. I said two years ago that the woodpeckers and nuthatches seemed to have disappeared from the garden. But at that time the owls were still holding their own. This year there were none, for the first time ever since I was a child.

So the parakeets have joined pigeons, crows and magpies - the last two also clearly on the increase from the numbers I saw - on the list of official pests, together with a couple of other new additions, such as the Canada Goose - again regarded as a danger to crops, and also a public health and safety problem.


The London Wildlife Trust has opposed the placing of both birds on the list, while the RSPB has suggested that there is a need for more evidence of the impact the parakeets have outside urban areas. And amongst Londoners, opinion is divided. The parakeets were once called "the grey squirrel of the skies" - an apt description. Like the grey squirrels, they're a non-native species which has become dominant, displacing native species. And like the grey squirrel you either love them or you hate them.

Me? Well, I'm the one who feels guilty if she kills a few red spider mite, so you can imagine ... But as I said in a recent post, I love seeing grey squirrels in the garden - and I guess that goes for the variety from the skies too.



Explore some more ...

How do parakeets survive in the UK? BBC Website

Is it time to start culling parakeets? The Guardian

Britains's naturalised parrot now officially a pest The Independent

Statement on Monk and Ring-necked Parakeets Natural England

No open season on shooting parakeets, says RSPB Wandsworth Guardian

Are parakeets threatened with control? London Wildlife Trust




13 comments:

gittan said...

I had no idea that they lived in England! When I was a young girl about 13-14 we had one of those as a pet. But we thought that it was an exotic bird =) from some country far away. Sad that they have become a pest / gittan

Miss Daisy said...

Huh, fascinating. I didn't know this about Parakeets. That was truly an interesting read. They are so beautiful, but the havoc they cause sounds like is very destructive! How can a cute bird be so destructive? :)

Tootsie said...

now this is just something else!
last summer I was weeding in my garden and one landed on my head. I nearly crapped myself...but then realized what it was...a short time later a woman frantically comes and asks if I had seen a little bird...to my surprise I was not "snow white" but a lady with the same color hair as the bird owner!
I helped her find her little bird and the story was a happy ending...but this story you tell is unreal! I had no idea anything like this happens in England! hmm...it makes me sad that they are so pretty and considered a pest!

Pam'sEnglishGarden said...

Are these what we called budgies (budgerigars) when I was a child in England? We always had them for pets. Oh, dear ... it's a shame they became pests. Pamela

Sue Swift said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. No Pam, they're not budgies. Budgerigars are much smaller. By chance though, I did see a budgie in the garden this summer - clearly another escapee. Sadly, he's not going to make it through the winter. The parakeets come from the Himalayas and can take the cold. Budgies are from Australia and can't.

Scintilla @ Bell'Avventura said...

We have a problem with Rainbow lorikeets and cockatoos in my parents garden in Melbourne. They'ed get all the fruit and nuts unless the trees were covered. And are really noisy. But so pretty to watch!

janie said...

We sometimes see parrots in our back yard, and were surprised the first few times it happened. Then we found out there is an exotic bird breeder close by, and the birds escape regularly. I hope they don't grow in numbers the way your parakeets have! A very interesting post.

Chandramouli S said...

Wow! I love these little clowns and so do we all Indians. It's fun to watch them playing with each other and how they bully crows! No, really, they do! LOL! I'd understand the wildlife authorities' concern, but I hope not many are culled. I can't even think of them as pest. My mom used to say that in her childhood, these parakeets would chomp on the mangoes in their backyard but they aren't considered pests here. Nice post, Sue.

Barbee' said...

Hello Sue, this was news to me. Thank you for the interesting post.

Wendy said...

Well, for me, pets immediatly become pests! I didn' about able these parakeets though. Interesting post!

Randy Emmitt said...

Sue,

Enjoyed this posting and learned a lot about introducing things into the wild.

Jan said...

How amazing! I didn't know anything about this, and strange to think that if I'd stayed living where I grew up, then I would have. They used to say that escaped budgies would be attacked by native birds, but I suppose these are too large for that to be aa problem.

easygardener said...

I'm sure the usual demonising stories will start appearing in the media. Some people think that wildlife should be seen, but not heard and never do any damage. The birds are not likely to spread out of warmer urban areas in the south. I think they should leave them alone.

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