If you ever spotted apple-green birds the size of a turtledove with bright red bills during one of your strolls around Paris, you are neither colorblind nor sleepwalking. You merely sighted one of the many rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) that have made Paris and its vast suburbs their home.
Native of India and Sub-Saharan Africa, these tropical birds were named after the faint pink neck-ring—bordered by a thin coal-black line—present in adult males but missing in females and immature individuals. Although rose-ringed parakeets generally display a green plumage, color variations exist and some individuals are completely yellow (see below). Both sexes can mimic human voices, an ability that has made the bird a popular pet since Antiquity where skilled individuals cost more than a slave.
— Yalakom (@ykomeye) 19 Juin 2015
Parakeets were introduced in Ile-de-France by accident when―it is believed―a few individuals escaped from planes that landed at Orly and Roissy airports in the 1970’s and 1990’s respectively. The birds smoothly transitioned to the temperate climate of the region, in which temperatures are mild year round, and in the absence of competition and predators on the newly conquered range, they rapidly spread to most parts of the urban area, inhabiting its numerous parks, woods and private gardens.
In comparison with most local bird species, Rose-ringed parakeets exhibit great confidence around humans, always giving the observer the chance to approach them closely. When at last they fly away, it is never far―just enough to be out of reach and keep an inquisitive eye on us. They boldly investigate any new garden construction and will do whaterver it takes to attain food, including entering confined spaces from which escaping is uneasy.
Between 2011 and 2013, their Parisian population grew from roughly 1,600 individuals to over 3,000. At this rate, and considering the bird’s life expectancy of up to 30 years, biologists estimate that their numbers will increase tenfold over the next decade.
Such exponential growth altogether reveals an impressive level of adaptability and raises concern among scientists who sought to determine whether the non-indigenous species has had adverse effects on local ecosystems and biodiversity.
Rose-ringed parakeets nest in natural tree cavities, rock crevasses or holes made by other species (e.g. squirrel, woodpecker) which may create competition with native cavity-nesters such as nuthatches, starlings and woodpeckers, especially in urban areas where hollows are scarcer. Additionally, the bird, whose diet is composed of fruits and grains, may be harmful to local vegetation and crops. In India, they represent a terrible pest, ravaging crops and thus causing severe yield losses.
Between October 2012 and March 2013, the Paris National Museum of Natural History organized the capture of individuals in Ile-de-France for the purpose of the study. Parakeets were found to have a limited impact on their urban habitat; in particular, competition with indigenous cavity-nesters did not appear to be a threat, mainly because breeding seasons do not overlap.
However, a 2014 study suggests that the sole presence of the parrots disturbs the foraging behavior of native bird species. The birds are especially intimidating because they keep in large bands―see for yourself how they take over winter feeders that they empty in no time (below image and video). Even birds as imposing as magpies prefer to avoid confrontation. Placing feeders only accessible to small passerine birds (unlike the one on the picture below) such as robins, great tits, blue tits, finches, wrens, etc. is a solution but only a partial one as it unconveniently keeps out larger birds like starlings, turtledoves, blackbirds, and woodpeckers who also compete for food with the parakeets.
The alien birds remain closely monitored in France as larger numbers could become problematic.
These birds are remarkably loud, a trait amplified by their highly gregarious behavior. They can form flocks of a few hundreds while night communal roosts often count dozens, to the dismay of locals―relentless aviary noises are not to the taste of everyone―and much to the detriment of their cars parked under the gathering trees.
These problems set aside, the vivid, handsome bird gives an exotic touch to the French capital. Yet, Paris is no isolated case. At least 65 rose-ringed parakeet populations were indentified across Europe. In France, the bird also colonized Marseille, Toulouse, Nancy, and Lille, to name a few. In Belgium, a zoo director allegedly hoping to make Brussels more colorful deliberately―and astoundingly irresponsibly―freed 40 individuals in 1974 who engendered more than 10,000 to date. London (greater area and Kent) holds the record with more than 32,000 individuals according to a 2011 estimate by Project Parakeet, a number that likely increased ever since.All pictures and videos contained in this blog were taken in a private garden in Sceaux (Hauts-de-Seine).
Assessing the potential impact of invasive ring-necked parakeets Psittacula krameri on native Nuthatches Sitta Europeae in Belgium, D. Strubbe et al., Journal of Applied Ecology 2010, 47, 549–557.
Experimental evidence of impacts of an invasive parakeet on foraging behavior of native birds, Hannah L. Peck et al., Behavioral Ecology (2014), 00(00), 1–9.
ENS Lyon – Département Biologie
Various French press articles.