There are some alien species that my opinions are straight down the line about. Japanese Knotweed? Himalayan Balsam? Pain in the arse. American Mink? Genuine threat to native wildlife and a small enough population to remove. Little Owls? Awesome featherballs. I have a great sympathy with a bird that manages to look so permanently affronted. I really like Little Owls. Maybe I sense a kinship with something that looks angry the whole time.
Ah, but Parakeets. There I find myself flip-flopping. Ambivalence is the wrong word. It’s too garish (or colourful, if you prefer) and screechy (or vibrant) a bird for such an absence of emotion. Maybe I haven’t fallen into either camp because they toe the line between novel alien and damaging invasive. Maybe it’s because I’d never seen (or heard) them before moving to London 8 years ago (and I’m pretty slow to make my mind up about anything). Maybe I’m just being contrary by not picking a side when everyone I know in the sector already appears to have done. I end up defending it to my anti-parakeet friends and pillaring it to the pro-parakeet-ers. Both sides think I’m an idiot.
I’m not going to go into the well-versed myths about the origin of the population; I blame neither Bogart nor Hendrix. But the reason for their population boom since the late 90’s is definitely a point worth considering. Have they surpassed some seemingly arbitrary population density that allows them to thrive, like an inverse of the Passenger Pigeon? Maybe they’re some kind of backwards climate change canary?
I can’t quite find it in myself to get fully behind the London Wildlife Trust’s stance that they are as ‘British as curry’; it’s a clever but skewed comparison open to misinterpretation. And the lazy chucking about of ‘racism’ by the sub-editors in these pieces (though it is not used anywhere by ‘wildlife experts’ from what I can see) instantly gets my back up, puts me on the defensive and back in the anti-parakeet camp. There is some evidence that parakeets are causing damage to native species, with over-competition with bats for nest-holes and even direct attacks recorded. There is also a suggestion that they out-compete and ‘bully’ native species, but this has as yet not been fully explored. But should we act here on a precautionary principal regarding an alien species? By the time adequate evidence has been accumulated, it may already be too late.
But in reality, it probably already is too late. The ‘as British as curry’ argument suggests an ingrained and embedded species that would be difficult (and expensive) to eradicate, but I’ve never seen this as a reason not to try. They are colourful though, and add a welcome dash of brightness to the mundane décor of…nah, balls to that. Decisions of ecology should not be reduced to aesthetical grounds, that’s a whole stew of nonsense decision making right there. This piece has been a very subjective and personal one; there’s a lot more ‘me’ and ‘I’ in it than I could say I’m comfortable with. But maybe that’s the point? When the issue is one of such currently negligible scientific evidence and based on anecdote and speculation, should the ultimate fate of the Ring-Necked Parakeet come down to the opinion of your standard ecologically-illiterate Londoner?*