No, I have not been gallivanting around the world again. This “glamorous oriental stranger”, to employ a description used by the great David Attenborough, is a rose-ringed parakeet and is now a regular visitor to our bird feeders in Broadstairs.
Few things give me greater pleasure than sitting in the warmth of our dining room, watching the birds stuffing their little beaks full of nuts and seed. They certainly can put it away it this time of year – I seem to be constantly topping the food up and sweeping away the debris on the terrace. However, until recently we’ve managed to attract little more than sparrows (which come in their sociable, chattering droves), blackbirds, ring-necked doves, wood pigeons and brutish starlings. I once sighted a blue tit and today, for the first time, a robin paid us a visit. It must be nearly Christmas!
But just recently the flamboyantly coloured rose-ringed parakeets, which have made their home in a neighbour’s roof, have started to pluck up the courage to visit our garden. We’re quite used to seeing them high upon the TV aerials and it’s hard not to miss their very un-English squawking, but up close with the sun on their feathers they are really quite something. Hailing from Africa and Asia, these exotic birds are multi talented, performing acrobatics and having the ability to mimic human speech. I wonder if I could train one to make tea?
Rose-ringed Parakeets became established in the UK during the mid to late 1900s. There are many colourful stories about how they escaped into the wild, the most popular being that they flew away from Ealing Studios, West London, during the filming of The African Queen in 1951. Another theory is that they escaped from an aviary during the 1987 hurricane; or that a pair released by Jimi Hendrix in Carnaby Street in the 1960s, are to blame. Whatever one chooses to believe (I’m with the African Queen), the population rocketed during the 1990s and consequently areas of London and the South East now have large and well established populations.
When we first came to Broadstairs the parakeets’ main haunt was the park which separates us from neighbouring Ramsgate, but in winter they now venture into town where their preferred diet of seed, nut, fruits, and berries is available from gardens and bird feeders. There is some debate about whether their proliferation might impact native birds, but judging by the noisy bonhomie outside our window the locals are nonplussed by their colourful, acrobatic cousins.
Below: Not so glamorous, but charming all the same, our chirpy little sparrows