FOR ALL AGES

How To Spot England’s Wild Parakeets

Parakeet nibbles apple in hand

Ever noticed a green flash among the trees? You probably saw a parakeet.

Britain is now home to around 10,000 breeding pairs, with huge colonies in London and the south-east. Spotting the charismatic birds is a fun and rewarding activity for families. They are very easy to identify, and seem to have little fear of humans.

Here’s our guide to taking the children to see wild parakeets. 

Hang On. Wild Parakeets In Britain? Who Ordered Those?

Nobody knows. Their origins are mysterious. Large flocks have been around since the 1990s, but smaller groups were reported for decades before that.

Where Did They Come From?

The ring-necked parakeet (which is what we’re dealing with) originates in India and parts of Africa. The bird has been kept as a pet for centuries, but only recently established itself as a wild population in the UK.

So How Did They Get Out?

The many theories are as exotic as the birds themselves. Jimi Hendrix is said to have released a breeding pair on Carnaby Street in the swinging '60s (he didn’t). Others escaped from the set of The African Queen, filmed in Isleworth in 1951 (they didn’t). A recently invented urban myth pins the blame on George Michael, whose collection of exotic birds escaped in the 1990s (again, they didn’t). Others blame the Great Storm of 1987 for rattling up the aviaries, or just the gradual, individual release of numerous pets over the years. Or maybe they just flew here. Nobody knows, really.

Are They Difficult To Spot?

No. It’s a doddle. Just look for a green bird about the size of a pigeon. There’s not much else that could fit the description -- other than a green woodpecker, which is less showy and doesn’t hang around in flocks. Plus, they squawk like billy-o. You often hear them before you see them. In fact, by coincidence, I can hear one out of the window as I type this sentence.

They’re Common, Then? 

Very. Especially in London and the south-east. You know, it’s remarkable how many people are still unaware of the birds. Once you’re clued on, you’ll spot a few every time you go out for a walk. Kids have a particular knack of spotting them.

Right, Give Me Tips On Where To See Them

The large parks of south and west London are a pretty safe bet. Huge flocks screech their way around Richmond and Bushy Park, for example (you can also look out for deer while you’re there). 

The Royal Parks in central London are also a popular parakeet playground. I’ve found that Kensington Gardens has the tamest birds. The most tame are often found near the Peter Pan statue -- appropriate really, given Peter’s associations with pirates and therefore parrots. These ones are so tame, that they’ll readily land on your outstretched arm -- especially if you hold an apple. Here’s proof. This is me

Just be careful with small children, as the birds’ claws are a little scratchy.

I’m Not In London. Can I Still See Them?

Although London is considered their stronghold, flocks of parakeets have been recorded in almost every English and Welsh county. The Home Counties are most bounteous, but you may have joy almost anywhere.

So, British Parakeets. Good Thing Or Bad Thing?

It depends who you ask. Some people consider them invasive pests, who push out smaller birds and reduce the food supply for other animals. And that piercing squawk isn’t easy to love -- especially if you live near a roosting site.  But others -- especially children -- adore the brightly coloured birds for adding a splash of the exotic to our parks and gardens. Happy spotting!

All images by the author.

Author

Written By

Matt Brown

Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.

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