Monday, 4 April 2011

London Garden Blight: Parakeets v Trampolines

There were seven Rose-ringed Parakeets in my Shepherd's Bush back garden when I opened the curtains at 6.30am today.

Three were fighting for space on one of the two sunflower-seed feeders. The others were perched in the still-leafless fig tree that overlooks them.

At this time of year we usually see them before we hear them: sunrise is around 6.35am and it's still chilly enough to have the windows closed all night.

But give it a month and their unmistakeable, ear-piercing kyik! kyik! squawking will be waking up everyone with a half-open bedroom window by first light at 5.30 in the morning.

It's around then that I stop filling up the bird feeders. I actually quite like the noise myself - it's part of the west London soundscape and I'd much rather be woken early by a Himalayan parrot than Farming Today on Radio Four.

But the elderly next-door-neighbour isn't as keen. He's too neighbourly to make an issue of it but the tinfoil things he hangs from the branches of his fig tree and the way he shoos-off the birds whenever he sees them are a bit of a giveaway.

He's not the only one who'd rather they weren't there. Fifteen months ago Natural England made it legal to shoot parakeets and destroy their nests and eggs without a licence if the landowner has a good reason, such as crop or habitat destruction.

That was in response to the huge surge in the population in London and the Home Counties - there are nearly 5,000 breeding pairs these days and each bird can live up to 18 years. Not a bad effort by the few pioneering film-set escapees of 60 years ago.

Supporters of the permission-to-cull legislation say the incomers are also a threat to our native garden birds, especially House Sparrows which have all but vanished from parts of north and east London.

But in my bit of W12, we've got a thriving population of chattering sparrows in the inaccessible Dog Rose bushes at the back of the garden and they regularly scrap with their more glamorous rivals for a perch on the feeders.

Great Spotted Woodpeckers are also said to be under threat because the parakeets use the same sort of tree holes they favour for their nests.

But in the last three years, woodpeckers have been regular visitors to the hanging peanut feeder on the other side of our garden. They come more often, not less.

All anecdotal, of course, but I'm very fond of the parakeets. Visitors are amazed the first time they see them in the garden and they certainly liven up summer evenings when squawking, fast-flying flocks of 30 or more sweep over the rooftops before settling down to roost at Wormwood Scrubs.

And given the choice between their noisiness and the sound of excited toddlers bouncing on and falling off trampolines all weekend - boing, boing, waahh! -  it's a no-brainer.

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