As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Monday, 10 June 2019

The great green expansion: how ring-necked parakeets took over London

Was Jimi Hendrix responsible for the bright-green tropical birds’ presence in the capital? Or was it Katharine Hepburn?
Thu 6 Jun 2019 07.30 BSTLast modified on Thu 6 Jun 2019 07.32 BST
Electric Ladyland wasn’t the only thing Jimi Hendrix released in 1968. One day in that tumultuous year he left his flat on Brook Street, Mayfair, and strolled down nearby Carnaby Street with a birdcage in his hands. I like to think that he was dressed in a tasselled jacket and flares, his favourite Fender Stratocaster slung across his back. Or perhaps he travelled incognito, in a trenchcoat and dark glasses. Either way, somewhere on that street, the heart of Swinging London at the height of peace and love, he opened the door of the cage and unleashed two bright green birds: Adam and Eve, a breeding pair of ring-necked parakeets.
As they vanished, a flash of tropical colour against the grey sky, passersby merely shrugged: just more hippy weirdness. Was it a psychedelic stunt? A symbolic gesture of freedom? The result of a week-long drugs bacchanal? No one really knows. What we do know is that this incident is the indisputable origin of London’s population of feral parakeets, which now number in the tens of thousands and have spread from Hounslow to Haringey, Croydon to Crouch End.
Unless that story is not true, and actually London’s parakeets arrived in 1951 with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The Hollywood stars were in town filming The African Queen at Isleworth Studios (or Shepperton Studios, depending on who you ask). A romantic adventure set in the equatorial swamps of east Africa, the film required exotic extras, so a flock of ring-necked parakeets was unwisely brought on set. Whether these resourceful birds escaped before, during or after filming has not been definitively established – they certainly don’t appear in the film, which I have watched frame by frame – but what lies beyond all reasonable doubt is that these cinematic escapees were the progenitors of today’s population.

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