The rose-ringed parakeet (also called the ring-necked parakeet) is native to Africa and the Indian subcontinent, as far north as Nepal and as far south as Burma. However, with the help of humans, the species has managed to colonize many areas of the world, where it’s a vibrant—albeit invasive—presence in Europe and East Asia.
London is one such place these birds have established themselves, but it’s unclear exactly how they managed to get there. Over the years, there have been several theories put forward to explain their mysterious appearance, the theories often as colorful as the birds themselves.
One theory claims the parakeets are the descendants of birds owned by the rockstar Jimi Hendrix, who lived in London. According to this tale, either Hendrix or one of his girlfriends released the birds as a symbolic gesture of peace and love, and their presence has lingered ever since.
A second hypothesis is that these birds escaped from either the film set of The African Queen, at Shepperton Studios in West London, or from the studios of a Bollywood filmmaker who often made his movies in the city. Yet the most likely reason behind London’s parakeet residents is that the founding population escaped from a pet shop (or several) during the 1960s and ‘70s, or from garden aviaries that were destroyed during the Great Storm of 1987.
Since their introduction, the parakeet population has expanded, and it’s now estimated there are approximately 8,600 breeding pairs inhabiting the United Kingdom. The species is mainly found in the Greater London area, though the plucky parakeets are slowly colonizing the neighboring County Kent and sightings have been recorded in almost every region of England and even in the border regions of Wales and Scotland.
Not everyone is happy about these colorful colonists. Agriculturalists have reported economic losses in fruit orchards, where flocks of parakeets arrive and guzzle down fruit crops such as plums and cherries, sometimes stripping trees bare. Moreover, the ecological impact of the parakeets on native birds is a problem that remains to be fully understood. Scientists believe the parakeets may be competitors for food and nest sites with species such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, and jackdaws.
Know Before You Go
There are several places in London where the parakeets can be seen, such as Bushy Park, Kew Botanical Gardens, Richmond Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens.