Where: London, England

April 24, 2007: For 40 years, the people of London have been happy to spot in their parks a bird that seems to have made its way from the Himalayas to the capital of England. With its shocking green body, red beak, long tail and noisy screech, the rose-ringed parakeet brought a vivid splash of colour to parks in and around London. The parakeet (psittacula krameri) is native to a great belt of land stretching from Africa to the Himalayas in India. So impressed were people with its colourful presence, that they started putting out bird feed for it.

Pretty bird no more []
Pretty bird no more []

Parakeet green is for danger
However, the parakeets are no longer welcome. The government has suddenly woken up to the fact that there are many more parakeets in and around London than is healthy for the local bird population. Government experts put the number of parakeets at around 30,000. They fear that if the number of parakeets keeps rising, these birds will push out local birds like woodpeckers, starlings and nuthatches from trees to build their own nests.

Not only that. The parakeets will then also corner most of the food available in the parks – seeds, berries, fruit and nuts, says a report in The Independent online . The local bird population will then have a tough time staying alive. An organisation called the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has asked the government to investigate what kind of a threat the parakeet poses for local birds.

If the government decides that these birds are indeed a threat to local birds, it will have to take steps to control the numbers of parakeets. One of the ways in which it is done is through culling. The act of culling means to choose and kill birds and animals that are seen as extra, or beyond the needed numbers. Andre Farrar, a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), has said they have not decided on a death sentence for the birds. All they have asked the government to do is to look into the matter.

Mystery of the globe-trotting parakeet
The most surprising thing about the case of the rose-ringed parakeet is that no one quite knows how the parakeet came from India and started breeding in areas around London. One of the theories is that a flock of parakeets escaped from a film studio in Surrey where the famous film “African Queen” was being shot in 1951.

How birds and plants invade new lands
Experts point out that the problem of the parakeets is part of a larger problem that planet Earth is facing. Sometimes by accident, plants and animals are carried to new places. For example, imagine if some creatures are carried to a place where it is easy for them to survive and where there they have no natural enemies. Then these foreign or non-native species will multiply in a way that will harm the native species and spoil the delicate balance of nature.

Often, organisms like bacteria, fish and crabs get transported in the water tanks of ships. When these ships reach new destinations and pump out the water from their tanks, these creatures start life in a new place. If there are no natural enemies there, these creatures will pose a threat to local organisms.

When humans play God
Sometimes humans take plants and animals from one part of the world to the other to fix a problem and, without realising it, create a bigger problem. A couple of weeks ago, we reported on a similar problem being faced by Australia. Some decades ago, the sugarcane farmers of northern Australia brought the cane toad from South America to their farms. They thought the cane toads would kill the beetles that harm the sugarcane crop.

But the cane toad has done much more. It is now killing Australia’s native animals, from snakes, lizards, water birds and dingoes to crocodiles. When an animal tries to attack the toad, in fear it oozes a poison which collects in sacs behind its eye. As soon as the animal swallows the toad, it dies too. What’s more, the toads have now evolved longer legs and are spreading across Australia.

Experts around the world are saying that the journey of non-native species is harming large parts of the plant and animal world. That is why many countries have very strict rules about what you can or not carry with you while travelling to their lands.

As humans learn how their actions can impact the planet, the fate of many a parakeet or plant hangs in balance.

Want to know more on this topic? Check out the links below

An Invasion of Toxic Toads

Marine Militants

797 words | 8 minutes
Readability: Grade 8 (13-14 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: world news
Tags: #birds, #australia, #london, #toads

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