What's Brought 32,000 Parakeets to London's Suburbs?


Photo: challiyan under a Creative Commons license.

In April, Brian lamented new population maps that show Americans are still moving to the suburbs. But the study was restricted to the United States, and only looked at human population shifts. Which means that it offers no help in solving a mystery that's troubling British scientists: why have tens of thousands of rose-ringed parakeets, native to India and Africa relocated to London's suburbs in the last fifteen years?In 1995, it was estimated that 1,500 of the birds made their home in Britain. Today, the estimate is 32,000 in southeast Britain alone, mostly around the capital. It is generally agreed that the species was first brought to Europe as pets, reports the New York Times. But the reasons for the population explosion are a lot harder to pin down. Theories include a warmer climate that is closer to the birds' native regions, the removal of predators, and more obliging suburbanites putting out bird feed.

The parakeets are notorious pests in the native regions, responsible for large-scale crop damage. So far, they have done little damage in the new home, but the potential remains. Their impact on the ecological balance in Britain is unclear for the time being.

That's where Project Parakeet comes in. A project of Imperial College London's biology department, its aim is to carry out a census of the birds, determine their ecological and economic impact on the United Kingdom., and figure out a way to slow their proliferation.

Until then, Londoners will have to wait, and hope that the birds don't wreak havoc, à la Hitchcock.

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