These handsome green visitors are now permanent residents in South Manchester. Linsey talks to local ornithologist Tony O’Mahony.
“It’s always that distinctive squawk you hear first: they don’t sound like any other wild birds in Manchester.”
Tony’s talking about the Ring-necked Parakeet (Psitticula krameri), Britain’s only naturalised parrot. There are already large, well-established flocks in South East England and their origins are the stuff of legend. Were a pair given their freedom by Jimi Hendrix, or were they perhaps escapees from the set of the 1951 film, The African Queen? The Mancunian birds – an entirely separate population – have a back story that’s a little less glamorous.
“They’ve escaped from captivity – including from the Pets Corner at Platt Fields Park, which closed in the early nineties,” says Tony. “These birds are native to India, with significant numbers in the foothills of the Himalayas. That means they’re a bit hardier than the usual tropical parrots, so they’re able to withstand British winters and become established.”
They’ve been seen in the area for a number of years now, but sightings are becoming increasingly common. “A count was undertaken last winter, putting the South Manchester population at over 200. They’re living in most of our urban woodland now, including parks, large gardens, the Mersey Valley – even Southern Cemetery.
“You may need a sharp eye to see the birds in the spring,” says Tony. “They’re a little quieter and more secretive, given that they’re rearing their young. They don’t want to draw attention to nests, which can be susceptible to raids by squirrels.”
The parakeets eat fruit, nuts and seeds, so look out for them on your garden bird feeders – or plundering your fruit trees! They’re a bit more visible during the winter, so a good way to attract them to your garden is to keep the feeders full and to leave some fruit on your trees – you’ll be providing an essential food source for all birds during the colder months.
While the parakeets may seem impossibly exotic for Manchester, they’re just one of many species introduced into Britain by human activity, and their success mirrors that of the grey squirrel; itself an American import.
The jury’s still out as to whether or not they pose a significant threat to our native wildlife. The RSPB currently have no plans to regulate their numbers, but they’re keeping a watch on population growth. “The parakeets nest and overwinter in holes in tree trunks, so they’re competing with local natives such as nuthatches or stock doves for a finite number of sites,” says Tony. “Woodpeckers tend to drill out their own fresh holes every breeding season, but parakeets have been known to force their way into them. Also, when they amass in very large numbers, they can be a nuisance to fruit growers, stripping trees bare, but we’re a long way off that in Manchester.”
If you do want to see these green beauties, Tony recommends Chorlton Water Park. “It can be difficult to see them in more enclosed woodland – especially when trees are in fresh leaf – but the open water makes them easy to spot. There’s also a very popular feeding station in the car park. Listen for that squawk!”
Tony will lead a guided bird walk around Hough End Clough on behalf of the Friends of Hough End: it’s open to everyone who loves birds. Meet 10am, Saturday 13 May, at Mauldeth Road West (Rugby Club) entrance.
He also hosts bird walks in Chorlton Meadows for the Friends of Chorlton Meadows. Dates and details on Facebook.