Lessons from Nature Episode 3: Parakeets
1st December, 2005
An open-air performance of La bohème in a Surrey park. Mimi is dying, her lover is distraught, the audience can hardly breathe for emotion. Puccini’s opera reaches its unbearably poignant climax…
Then, without warning, tragedy descends into unscripted farce. A gang of yobs bursts on to the scene – rowdy, irreverent, wrecking the atmosphere. No, not teenagers – parakeets. Ringnecked parakeets, a huge, boisterous flock of them.
These flashy immigrants, once rare, are increasingly common in parts of South East England. They number tens of thousands. Green plumage, red beak, long tail, strident voice… the birds make an instant impression on all who see and hear them. Many enjoy their acrobatic clowning in town trees and gardens and welcome them as a colourful distraction from dreary grey winters.
But the parakeets are not universally loved. Indeed, some people would happily throttle them. One such is Mark Ebdon, estate manager at Painshill Park, setting of that interrupted opera. He can forgive the birds’ bad manners, but not their destructive ways.
‘They’ve been raiding our vineyard for the grapes. Painshill produces award-winning wine – up to 5,000 bottles a year, but this may fall to 500 bottles when the parakeets get busy. They seem immune to scarecrows, things that go bang, and other deterrents.’
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