WANSTEAD: Park birds in a flap over parakeet invasion (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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City of London Corporation monitoring parakeet numbers in Wanstead Park following tawny owl deaths
A MOB of exotic birds has staged an invasion of a public park - and appears to be trying to turf out the native population of tawny owls.
The City of London Corporation has confirmed it is monitoring numbers of ring-necked parakeets in Wanstead Park after the brightly-coloured birds turned on a pair of baby owls.
A young tawny owl was found seriously injured at the bottom of a tree by a member of the public earlier in the summer.
A second owlet, perched in the tree above, was being attacked by a group of the parakeets.
Kevin Garten, who runs his own Enfield-based wildlife ambulance service, was called by forest keepers to pick up the injured owl and take it to a rescue centre - but the young bird died en route.
The second bird was found dead in the park the following day.
"It wasn't in a very good state at all," said Mr Garten, 53.
"It's the first time I know of that sort of incident happening - they said it had been picked up by parakeets. It's the first time I'd seen it in 25 years.
"Parakeets can be aggressive, but then so can crows," he added.
The parakeets - recognisable by their bright green feathers, red beaks and a pink and black ring around their necks - are native to sub-Saharan Africa and India.
They have been popular pets since the Victorian era and, as birds escaped or were released into the wild, numbers across the South East have boomed. The British population is now estimated at 30,000.
Despite their exotic origins, they are able to live happily in the British climate and favour parks, large gardens and orchards where food is plentiful.
"In the last few years they are covering a lot of the South East. Unfortunately, they're not our indigenous species," said Mr Garten.
"But it's evolution - it's like muntjac deer or grey squirrels."
Keen birdwatcher Jonathan Lethbridge, 37, lives on the Lakeside Estate in Wanstead and has been monitoring the area’s parakeet for several years.
He recorded a single viewing in the park in 2009 – and now regularly sees flocks of up to 30 ‘commuting’ there in the mornings.
He said: “I expect to see a parakeet every single day now and in some numbers.
“Most of them don’t actually live in the area, they commute north in the morning and they fly back in the south in the evening. They just use the park for feeding.”
He said he had never heard of another case of parakeets attacking owls.
He added: “It’s too late for a massacre of parakeets. If they were going to do it, they would have had to do it a long time ago.”
Parakeets living in the wild are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but it is illegal to release parakeets into the wild or to allow them to escape.
Natural England has added ring-necked parakeets to their general licence, meaning landowners can kill or take the birds if they are damaging crops or wild birds.
A spokesman said the City of London Corporation had not yet decided whether to take any action to control the parakeet population.
He said: "We are not involved in any cull at this present time, but we are monitoring parakeet numbers and we will liaise with Natural England to discuss whether a cull is necessary."
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