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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
A flying fancy
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Picture by Mark Jobling
Wild parakeets in Kent
The parrot which died in UK quarantine from avian flu has highlighted the issue of exotic birds being imported. Who is buying them - and where did the UK's wild parrots come from?

Exotic birds are big business in the UK and Europe, with sought-after species - such as the gyr falcon - fetching 10,000 on the black market.

A total of two million exotic birds are legally traded in the EU every year, with the UK, Germany and Holland the main buyers. In this country alone an estimated 250,000 are imported by the pet trade and bird breeders.

But the RSPB believes this is just the tip of the iceberg and hundreds of thousands of birds are also illegally brought into the UK every year.

With worries about avian flu spreading from Asia, concerns about the disease spreading are increasing by the day.

Negligence

The birds are smuggled in cardboard tubes and suitcases, or by exporters putting more birds in cases than they declare on the documentation.

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The majority of birds legally imported into the UK come from South America, Africa and Singapore. The estimated number of species is approaching 1,000.

"The popularity in keeping and breeding birds is rising rapidly in the UK and we are one of the main players in the bird trade in Europe," says the RSPCA's David Bowles.

"This has resulted in a huge increase in the legal and illegal trade. With certain species going for 10,000 on the black market, it can be very lucrative."

Jimi Hendrix
Is Hendrix responsible for wild parrots in the UK?
But despite the UK's increasing fascination for exotic birds, few owners know how to look after them properly and pet shops are giving bad advice, says the RSPCA. Its inspectors had to rescue 16,249 exotic birds from 2000 to 2003.

"Deliberate cruelty is rare but negligence and particularly bad advice from pet shops is common," said a spokesman.

People's inexperience has also had an unexpected consequence. Partly as a result of owners abandoning birds, the number of wild parrots living in England is rising at 30% per year, says an Oxford University research project.

There have been reports that there could now be 20,000 wild parrots, including parakeets, living in England, with the largest concentration around London and the South East. There have also been sightings in the North West and in Scotland.

Theories

Birdline UK's Parrot Rescue, which looks after abandoned birds, says parrots are now acclimatised to conditions in this country and are quite capable of living and breeding here.

If the growth of wild parakeets continues at its current rate, there are concerns that they could become a pest to farmers or threaten other wildlife.

Other theories for wild parrots in the UK include birds escaping from containers at Heathrow airport and that they were released from aviaries damaged during the great storm of 1987.

Other urban myths include the theory that they were brought in by Jimi Hendrix, or that they escaped during filming of The African Queen at Shepperton Studios in 1951.


Your comments on this story.

My Dad used to live behind Windsor safari park. After it closed a flock of Parrots could be seen in the area, occasionally picking fruit off one of the trees his back garden. I guess they couldn't find new homes for them so just let them go.
Andy R, London

I thought I was hallucinating when I saw apair of parakeets (just like the ones in your picture) flying and percing in the trees alongside a stream in Maidenhead. How do they survive the winters, and what are they eating?
Lesley, Basingstoke

We see flocks of parakeets regularly in my area
judi moylan, bexleyheath

I remember when working in Black Park near Slough sighting about a dozen ring necked parakeets some 14 years ago. Are they still there?
adam, Czech Republic

What a pile of rubbish. I have been an exotic bird breeder for 25 years and never have I in all that time come across any illegally caught bird whatsoever - there is NO black market in Britain, the market is made up of bird-lovers who just don't tolerate it. Whilst I personally have always bred from captive bred stock and do not agree with imports the way some organisations are throwing around lies is proposterous and just signifies how many grave digging animal activists are infiltrating such charities.
Laus Trigwell, Carmarthen

What about the really wild birds which migrate here from foreign parts every year? They don't have passports or quarantine, they just fly right in. I suspect there are rather a lot more migratory birds than ones being smuggled in...
Chris C, Aylesbury UK

We've had green parakeets in Ealing for as long as I remember. I think they originally escaped from a large aviary in a public park decades ago. They're definitely increasing in numbers. My parents' garden backs onto a park and we quite often see flocks of them swooping from tree to tree.
Rachael, Ealing, London

Whilst walking the dog on Saturday I saw 3 different flocks of 20-30 ring necked parakeets plus numerous individuals flying to their roosts. When we moved here 5 years ago we used to see maybe 10 per day. There is little doubt their numbers are increasing dramatically. Just wish I could persuade them to come to my birdtable.
David Priddy, Datchet, UK

Walking through Bushey Park (near Hampton Court) yesterday felt like exploring some kind of tropical rainforest. The sky was so thick with parakeets that the sun (feeble at the best of times in October) was obscured for much of the afternoon, and the level of squawking ensured that polite conversation was nearly impossible. Where on earth have they all come from? As recently as 3 years ago you rarely saw them, now you can't escape from them.
Stuart Robinson, London, UK

Flocks of wild parakeets are regularly seen in parks and green spaces in Brussels. They nest on large trees on a roundabout in one of the city squares, and their screeching can be heard in the houses all around. Unless Hendrix made a film in Brussels too, this probably means he is not to blame!
Jane, Banbury

In our local park in north-west London, the first pair of parakeets appeared in April this year. Now there are at least 10 birds and they are nesting in tree trunks. Until then the crows were the top of the 'pecking order' - with the occasional invasion of dominant seagulls in winter. Now the parakeets are being very aggressive, attacking the crows and chasing other birds out of the trees. Should there be any intervention ?
Richard Lovell, London, UK

We have recently had a Parakeet flying wild in the area. He has been around for a number of weeks and still seems to still be in fine condition. The funniest sight was seeing him trying to court a female dove. He was putting a lot of effort into his mating display but she just sat there looking confused!
Phil Parratt, Colchester, England

I was astonished to see a flock of about 40 bright green birds fly past when I looked out of my kitchen window in Kilburn one evening a couple of weeks ago. Having asked birdwatchers about it my best guess is that they were parakeets like the ones in your picture. It seems they originate in India but have adapted quite well to the UK climate. It was certainly a surprise to see them in such numbers over London!
Gareth Taylor, London

We have flocks of parakeets flying overin a south easterly direction every evening.just before dusk. We have also sat in a friends garden at Hanworth in the evening and parakeets have flown over in a west south westerly direction. Their flightpaths would intersect somewhere in the region of the Shepperton Studios, which would give credence to the Jimmy Hendricks theory.
Roy Angel, Staines Middlesex

I used to live in Sidcup, and now live in Bromley. Flocks of green parakeets are a relatively common sight, especially in parkland. I used to hear that they must be new flocks released each year as they couldn't possibly survive the British winter, but my very first sighting was in Footscray Meadows on New Year's Day. They add a lovely bit of variety to our native bird population.
Geraldine, Bromley, Kent

Two years ago, just about this time of the year, a saw a large parakeet in one of my apple trees at my home near Rotterdam. I was incrudulous at first but he or she stayed for about 10 days until all the apples were eaten. Last year, again at this time of the year, I saw a similar bird once more. No luck this year yet, but I'm still hoping. Biologists can perform such wonders nowadays, so why dont they insert some colourful genes into our sparrows? That would brighten up the kitchen garden. J. P. W.
j. p. ward, Netherlands

They're a strange sight in the UK countryside but seemed to have found a niche. I trust avian flu in one quarantined parrot doesn't raise foolish ideas such as culling all UK parrots. Take nettles introduced by Romans into UK: now they are an essential food chain item for a number of UK butterflies and other species. Parrots in time may also come to take their place amongst our wildlife?
Clive, Redhill UK

I'm concerned about several sightings of an unidentified parakeet in the grounds of Grey Gables Hotel in Ambridge. Photographic evidence exists and the parakeet has been seen by several villagers, notably Linda Snell of Ambridge Hall and Jack Woolley proprietor of Grey Gables. This is very serious as Borsetshire is prime agricultural land and many neighbouring farms and smallholdings keep poultry. I'd like to know what DEFRA intend to do about such sightings.
Naomi Richland, Bushe, Herts




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