Swarms of Parakeets Invade London

Parakeets eating seeds on a bird feeder in London.

Georgette Douwma / Getty Images

Thousands upon thousands of rose-ringed parakeets have made homes in London and the surrounding suburbs. The New York Times reports that the colorful flocks are making a mess of British gardens and might be interfering with species, native and otherwise, that have long called England home.

The parakeet population has exploded in recent years. In 1995, about 1,500 parakeets were estimated to live in London. A few years ago, that number was closer to 30,000. Today it is estimated at 32,000, according to Project Parakeet, a research project that documents the ecological impact of the birds on the U.K.'s biodiversity and agriculture.

Although colorful, the birds are not always welcome. "I was delighted when I first saw one in my yard, but when you have a flock of 300, it's a different matter," retiree Dick Hayden told the Times. "They eat all the berries. They ate all the food from my feeder in one day; it was ludicrous. I had to stop putting it out because it got too expensive."

Back in 2007, the BBC looked at why the birds thrived in London and found that the city provided more than adequate food supplies. Though they hail from India and sub-Saharan Africa, the parakeets don't need warm weather to survive. "They actually originate from the foothills of the Himalayas, so they don't need it to be that warm to live comfortably," Andre Farrar of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds told BBC Magazine. Meanwhile, they have no natural predators that have kept populations down.

Where did the birds come from? No one knows for sure, but there are plenty of theories. Fortean Times cites the two most common: that rock star Jimi Hendrix released them to add more "psychedelic color" to London, or that they escaped from the Shepperton Studios during the filming of the Humphrey Bogart picture, "The African Queen." In all likelihood, they probably escaped or were released from residents' bird cages or pet stores.

The London phenomenon is not atypical of parakeet invasions around the world. Feral parakeets of many species have established colonies in numerous cities, including the famous San Francisco birds depicted in the documentary, "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."

There are no current plans to cull the London parakeet flock, but the U.K. won't allow another parakeet species to take hold in the same manner. An estimated 100 to 150 monk parakeets live in London and other towns, and they are starting to cause damage through the creation of their massive nests, which can be as big as cars. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has created plans, not yet public, to eliminate the monk parakeets, according to a report from The Independent.