Bird of the Month John Mcewen

For­get the ur­ban myth, says JOHN MCEWEN, it has noth­ing to do with Jimi Hen­drix

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

THE ROSE-RINGED para­keet ( Psit­tac­ula krameri, named af­ter the 18th-cen­tury Aus­trian nat­u­ral­ist Wil­helm Kramer) is also called ring-necked. Only the male has the black, rose-edged ring and black bib. Both sexes have an un­shapely rose beak and are new-leaf green, with six- to seven-inch tails. They bring a flash of spring to the bleak­est win­ter day and would cer­tainly brighten any Christ­mas tree.

The rose-ringed para­keet is the most northerly of the world’s par­rots and prob­a­bly the most nu­mer­ous. Sen­sa­tion­al­ists say the Bri­tish wild colony was founded by pets es­caped from celebrity own­ers such as Jimi Hen­drix and Mick Jag­ger, but our ac­quain­tance with this south­ern-Asian and sub-sa­ha­ran bird has a much longer his­tory.

Its beauty and mimicry have made it a pop­u­lar pet since an­tiq­uity. In In­dia, where it re­mains par­tic­u­larly abun­dant, it was prized by kings. It ar­rived in Europe in the Mid­dle Ages as the most ex­otic of caged birds. There is am­ple ev­i­dence that it reached England. Two are carved on a 14th-cen­tury mis­eri­cord in Wells Cathe­dral; an­other is perched on the Christ child’s wrist in a 15th-cen­tury English book of hours. It was be­lieved par­rots au­to­mat­i­cally said ‘Ave’ (Hail), the Ar­changel Gabriel’s greet­ing to Mary at the An­nun­ci­a­tion, and were thus sym­bols of pu­rity. John Skel­ton (1463-1529), in his satir­i­cal poem ‘Speke Parott’, de­scribed his rose-ringed nar­ra­tor:

Wythe my beke bent, and my lytell wan­ton iye,

My feath­eyrs fresshe as ys the em­rawde grene,

Abowte my necke a cer­culett lyke the ryche rubye,

My lytell legges, my fete bothe fete and clene,

I am a mynyon to wayte apon a quene;

The sur­prise is that such an adapt­able species took so long to spread its range. To­day it spans the globe from China to the USA, and among Euro­pean ci­ties it has colonised are Rome, Lisbon, Paris and Brus­sels, where in 1974 it was de­lib­er­ately re­leased by a zoo owner.

In mod­ern England the first es­caped birds were seen in Dul­wich Park in 1893; the first wild breed­ing pair in 1930 in Ep­ping For­est; the next not un­til 1971 in Croy­don and Shirley. Then num­bers soared (see Liv­ing Hell, March 2015). It was of­fi­cially ad­mit­ted to the Bri­tish List in 1984. The 2014 UK Breed­ing Bird Sur­vey showed its per­cent­age in­crease only sur­passed by the lit­tle egret; but, while the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion has mul­ti­plied to more than 30,000, ge­o­graph­i­cal ex­pan­sion has been slow. Apart from the Isle of Thanet there is no sig­nif­i­cant breed­ing colony out­side Greater Lon­don, al­though it has bred in Wales and Northum­ber­land, and has been seen in cen­tral Scot­land and once in Ire­land, in Cork. Fears that it drives out other hole-nest­ing birds seem un­founded. Greater spot­ted wood­peck­ers give it short shrift; doubts per­sist about nuthatches. The slow ad­vance from Lon­don of this beau­ti­ful bird with the squeaky-toy call should per­haps be wel­comed. In In­dia it is con­sid­ered a na­tional pest, the cause of un­told agri­cul­tural dam­age.

Carry Akroyd’s 2016 Bird of the Month cal­en­dar is avail­able from www. car­ryakroyd.co.uk.

Il­lus­trated by CARRY AKROYD

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