Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

In its native areas of trans-Saharan Africa and India, this is an abundant and widespread bird. How Ring-necked Parakeets originally became part of the British avifauna seems not to be known and is fast becoming a subject of modern mythology, with one far-fetched story involving their release from Shepperton Studios after filming of The African Queen in 1951. They are a commonly kept cagebird, however, and their initial source was likely to have been the pet trade. However they were introduced here, Ring-necked Parakeets were first known to have bred in the wild in Britain in 1969 and are now established feral breeders in southeast England. Their population slowly increased to an estimated 500 birds in 1983 and 1,500 birds by 1996, but now is rising rapidly by an annual average rate of 25% to 30%, with about 6000 individuals in 2002 (Pithon & Dytham 2002, Butler 2003). They are now common enough to be monitored by the BTO’s Breeding Birds Survey.

The breeding area of the birds centred on London is increasing only by 0.4 km a year, and there has been no evidence of any long-distance movement by any of the British birds, so it seems that there are further illegal releases of parakeets fuelling the species’ expansion of range. The Rare Breeding Birds Panel has, since 1996, attempted to collect records of non-native breeding birds from county recorders. According to their reports, the first likely breeding records of Ring-necked Parakeet outside southern England during this period came in 2003, when one pair probably bred in Derbyshire in 2003 and 2004, but not 2005, and one pair probably bred and at least six birds were seen regularly in Lancashire in 2004 (Holling et al 2007b).

The species’ diet and breeding biology have the potential to cause conflict, with man and with other birds. They eat mainly soft fruits and grain, and in India are considered a serious agricultural pest, although in Britain so far they seem to get much of their food from suburban gardens rather than farmland. They start nesting in February, using medium sized tree-holes, producing an average of almost two chicks fledging per nest. Recent work based on biometrics has shown that those in this country are of the Indian races (Pithon & Dytham 2001); although of tropical origins, they breed into the foothills of the Himlayas and are quite hardy birds, easily able to withstand what is nowadays a normal British winter. The Ring-necked Parakeets in Britain are now the most northerly breeding parrot populations in the world, although they are not yet known to have bred in Cheshire and Wirral.

The species seems first to have appeared in the county’s ornithological literature in 1977 when one was in the Rostherne area from 1 October to 27 November, followed by a female at Hilbre on 11 October 1978. Our First Atlas referred to the ‘presence of breeding Ring-necked Parakeets in a semi-feral state in adjacent parts of Greater Manchester’, and a small population almost certainly bred in Liverpool for a number of years from 1970 to the early 1980s (White et al 2008).

Since the first sighting in 1977, birds have been recorded in Cheshire and Wirral in every year except four, with the information submitted to the annual county bird reports varying from a single record at one site in many years, to eight records from five sites in 2001 and seven records at seven sites in 2004. Most records have been of solo birds, with occasional reports of two birds, often in flight. There are records for every month but with no seasonal pattern, with most from the areas of Hale and Sandbach, and at Poynton Pool where one male lived from October 1990 until it was found dead there on 26 February 1996. No report has ever suggested evidence of breeding, with perhaps the only hint being two birds that ‘appeared to be interested in a hole in a tree’ at Hale on 16 July 1983.

Within this Atlas period there were several Ring-necked Parakeet records during their potentially long breeding season, scattered across the county. All were single birds and the only records suggesting residence were from Hale (SJ48R) where one was seen several times from April to August 2005. The others were all on single dates, mostly in flight, again with no indication of any breeding behaviour, but in view of the species’ rapid expansion they are included here for completeness. In 2004 birds were at Marbury Country Park (SJ67N) and Kenyon (SJ69H), and flying over Woolston (SJ68P), Liscard (SJ39B) and Bath Vale, Congleton (SJ86R). In 2006 records came from near the River Weaver at Warburton’s Wood (SJ57N), Oakmere (SJ57Q) and in flight over Mere (SJ78F).

In the winter Atlas period, there were four records of single birds in the eastern half of Cheshire, two of them at least making only brief visits, at Appleton (SJ68H) and Sandbach (SJ76Q) in 2005/ 06, and at Edleston (SJ65F) and Dunham Massey (SJ78I) in 2006/ 07. Within their breeding range in Britain, they are well known for communal nocturnal roosts from September to March, usually in tall poplar trees, birds flying from perhaps 20 km to join with their fellows (Migration Atlas). This figure implies that any birds, if present, could cover much of the county in their daily range.

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