I remember my first sighting: swooping over my head in Richmond Park, a flash of green. What the… parrot? Having spent the previous 15 hours locked in a room with my very incomplete master’s thesis, I chalked what I thought I’d seen up to stress and exhaustion, then headed back inside to stare into the procrastinator’s abyss.
But a year or two later, crossing Hampstead Heath, I heard squawking. Not the twittering and chirping of London’s little robins and sparrows, not the brash croaking of its ravens, but an unmistakable, tropical-sounding squawking. I looked up, and there was no mistaking them this time: a veritable troop of bright green birds was chasing a harried raven across the sky.
It’s wild but it turns out that it’s true: London has parrots, likely released pets that found one another (though rumors abound) and then conquered the city’s green spaces. Apparently the natural habitat of these “ring-necked parakeets” isn’t different enough from London’s parks to discourage proliferation.
I have trouble calling these birds parakeets because I had a couple of pet parakeets as a kid: they were tiny, mean birds that could fit in the palm of my hand… if they didn’t draw blood first. These London birds are not much smaller than pigeons and, at least from afar, seem rather chill when compared to their little cousins. Anyway, parakeets are really just a kind of parrot, right?
I know maybe they’re an ecological menace, an invasive species set on world domination… but these birds are also keeping me sane at this uniquely trying time.
London, like many cities, is currently on lockdown to keep people from virusing all over each other. I live alone and although I’m not someone who gets bored easily, it has been a bit lonely, a bit stressful, and very strange. I’m grateful for virtual interaction and activity… but it is essentially flat and not very fulfilling.
Fortunately I live near some lovely parkland – Richmond Park, the Thames Path, and some patches of marsh and forest are within walking distance, and also happen to be the preferred hang-out for many of these lovely birds, which are just enough of a novelty and just difficult enough to spot as to make finding them a fun activity on my sanctioned daily escape outdoors. Plus, they (probably) can’t give me the ‘rona.
I listen for them and watch for the gemstone-like green of their plumage, so out of place amongst the more muted tones of London’s early spring foliage and flowers. This time of year, I sometimes spot them perched prettily on a blossoming tree, scattering petals as they gobble its seeds.
Like the virus, they’re just one more probably improbable phenomenon spread across the world by modern human life. What a time to be alive, as we often say now with irony – but isn’t it, always?