Are there really wild parakeets in London?
Yes, thousands of them. Long-term Londoners will be well aware, but newcomers are often taken by surprise by the flash of green and exotic squawk. You never forget your first parakeet moment.
What are they?
Parakeets come in lots of flavours, but London's are called ring-necked parakeets (sometimes rose-ringed parakeets). More specifically, it is the Indian subspecies of this bird (Psittacula krameri manillensis).
How do I identify them?
It's easy. They are the only large green birds in the kingdom. And they shriek like throttled muppets.
Where can I see them?
Almost anywhere in Greater London. The screeching invaders were once to be found only to the south of the city — places like Kew and Richmond Park. They've since spread all over the capital and out into the Home Counties. A bit like Franco Manca Pizza.
How can I get covered in parakeets?
There's a sweet spot, in Kensington Gardens, where you can make this happen:
Here's what to do.
1. Leave the tube at Lancaster Gate (Central line).
2. Buy an apple from Hyde Park Superstore. It is not a superstore, but it does sell nice apples, and the fellow behind the counter was pleasant.
3. Cross the road into Kensington Gardens. Follow the path along the right-hand side of the lake until you pass the Peter Pan statue.
4. A few paces further on, you'll find a notice board about the wildlife. It does not mention the most obvious, green, squawksome wildlife.
5. At the sign, head right, towards the nearest set of bushes and trees.
6. Reveal your apple.
7. You will be covered in parakeets about 2.3 seconds later. And possibly a pigeon.
Where did they come from? I mean, parakeets aren't exactly British, are they?
They are now. And don't let the Tories tell you otherwise.
Truth is, nobody really knows how this non-native bird first came to our shores. There are many theories:
1. The blighters escaped from the set of The African Queen, which was filmed at Isleworth Studios in 1951. This is the part of town where large flocks were first noticed. But that didn't happen till the mid-1990s. Where were they hiding for 40 years?
2. Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair during a 1960s Carnaby Street stunt. Definitely not true. There's no record of the stunt. Plus, we once met Hendrix's former girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, who told us she'd never heard of the myth until recently.
3. The Great Storm of 1987 wrecked a number of aviaries in the well-to-do Surrey borders. This seems to make the most sense — it dovetails neatly with the first mass sightings a few years later. This is coincidental evidence only, though.
4. Because London is a superb city, so why wouldn't you come here?
How many are there?
The RSPB estimates 8,600 breeding pairs. It does not have a figure for non-breeding pairs, singleton parakeets, or those in polyamorous relationships.
Are they aggressive?
Several reports online describe the birds as 'not aggressive', and even shy. That has been our experience out in the suburbs, but not so in Kensington Gardens. We have footage of the parakeets attempting to peck the hell out of a curious pigeon.
Our intrepid reporter received several sharp bites to the neck, hand and ear. The photo of the author covered in parakeets was taken by a passing Kashmiri priest (this is true) who eventually fled in fear at the bolshy birds. Thank you, sir.
How are they affecting other wildlife?
It's still unclear what effect, if any, the parakeets are having on other species. Research by the ultimate tag-team of Imperial College, the Zoological Society of London and the Natural History Museum had some thoughts back in 2014. The study found that garden birds tend to eat less or keep away from feeding sites when the intimidating pecksters are nearby.
Please leave your own parakeet anecdotes in the comments below. We'd particularly like to know if there are any other sites where parakeets will swoop on a hand-held apple.