Nature Notes 10/03/2014

There is some political discussion at the moment about the effect that immigration has on employment in particular and on society in general.  In the natural world, there is no doubt that species that have been introduced into Britain from abroad can have damaging consequences for the local fauna.    Once such species become adapted to the local environment, they are described as naturalised.  The most obvious example in East Berkshire is the Ring-Necked (or Rose-Ringed) Parakeet which has been recorded in the County since 1971.   They are now well-established in various locations in England and Wales.  Its harsh shriek [kee-ack, kee-ack] is frequently heard overhead these days in Eton and they frequently come to raid my bird table!RN Parakeet MV1

Originally from Africa north of the Equator and eastwards to India and Malaysia, this distinctive species has bright green feathers and a crimson bill.  Males also have a black throat and a rose-coloured ring around their throats.  The photo has been kindly provided by the Berkshire Bird Atlas Group.  It nests in holes in trees, and according to the new Berkshire Bird Atlas often occupies the vacated nest cavities of Great-spotted and Green Woodpeckers.  The diet of the Parakeet includes fruit (apples, cherries and plums are favourites), buds and berries but increasingly the birds are happy raiding bird feeders in gardens.

Over a thousand have nested in Wraysbury (in 2003) and there is currently a well-established roost near Slough Sewage Treatment works which regularly numbers up to 500.  Their success has been attributed to the absence of any natural predators, the fact that they breed earlier than most British species, their ability to withstand the harshest weather and their ability to forage widely.

The national expert on naturalised species happens to be Sir Christopher Lever, an Old Etonian who now lives in Winkfield and whose collection of butterflies has recently been given to Eton’s Natural History Museum. He suggests that the 10,000 or so parakeets in England and Wales may originally have been escapees from pet-shops and bird-farms, while some may have been turned loose by members of ships’ companies when they realized that importation would be delayed by a long and expensive period of quarantine.  The British parakeet population appears to have originated from the Indian part of the birds’ natural range.  Whatever their origin, the parakeets seem to be here to stay!

George Fussey