Alien invaders at the bird feeder

In the Countryside: Pam Taylor sees some unwelcome visitors to a bird feeder

I normally do my best to avoid any meetings in London, but my colleague’s comment that he lives only just inside the M25 persuaded me to attend on this occasion. Shame it was only just inside the M25 on the opposite side of London to here! Anyway, undaunted I ended up at his Shepperton house just before the appointed meeting time.

It wasn’t long before our group of dragonfly enthusiasts were seated around the table discussing past achievements, forthcoming plans and urgent business. Fascinating as this was, I couldn’t help occasionally glancing out of the nearby window to see what had been attracted to my host’s birdfeeders. At first it was pigeons precariously balancing to obtain the mixed seed, then a small flock of starlings arrived.

Just as we broke for coffee, I was amazed to see a ring-necked parakeet settle to feed. It was soon joined by two others and I learnt they were daily visitors to this garden. I know ring-necked parakeets are exotic aliens and I realise they impact on some of our native species, but they are good to look at. Lime green in colour with a bright red beak, a parakeet has a long green tail, and a black and pink ring around its face and neck.

These birds are now common in south-east England, particularly Surrey, Kent and Sussex, but they have been seen as far afield as Scotland and Wales. They are the only naturalised parrot species in the UK and today’s individuals are thought to have descended from pet and aviary birds that escaped or were deliberately released in the past. Roosting flocks can now number hundreds of birds and they are very noisy.

These colourful parakeets weren’t the only alien visitors to my colleague’s garden. Less welcome still were the brown rats tucking into spilt seed below the birdfeeders. This sight seems to be acceptable to some people, but I would be horrified if I witnessed it in my own rural garden. Rats transmit disease, including the potentially serious bacterial infection Weil’s disease. The grey squirrel that followed the parakeets onto the feeder itself was also unwelcome. These alien bullies are far less attractive than our native red squirrels.