London’s Parakeets in the Parks: Where did they come from?

If you’re walking through a London park and hear some loud squawking overhead, chances are it’s a flock of wild parakeets. London is home to tens of thousands of them, and they’ve settled quite comfortably into the city’s vast parks. I’ve noticed a lot of them in a big tree not far from the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens. They’re sociable birds and if you hold out your arm, they will gladly land on it to see if you’re offering them anything to eat.

Where Did They Come From?

These birds are not native to the UK. So where did they come from? Well, as it happens, there are several theories…

Jimi Hendrix

One of the best known and most colorful stories is that Jimi Hendrix started it all. He lived in London in the 1960s and owned a pair of parakeets. One day for some unknown reason, he took them for a walk – carrying their cage down Carnaby Street.

It was a time of love, peace, and freedom and no doubt he wanted his little birdies to experience that freedom too. So, in an act of love, he set them free. Could Jimi Hendrix’s two love birds have started it all?

African Queen

Another, rather romantic, theory is that parakeets were brought over in 1951 as part of a film set. At the time, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn were in London filming African Queen. Perhaps the birds had been extras on the set to try and replicate the sights and sounds of the African jungle. Then afterwards perhaps they were just left behind… Or maybe they went out for lunch break, saw some of London’s lovely parks and decided to set up house there.

Aviary Damage

Another possibility is that the London birds might have originated with a flock of parakeets that escaped from a damaged aviary. In the 1970s the Sion Park Aviary in west London was damaged when debris from a plane crash broke through the roof.

Bird Flu Scare

In the early 1900s, birds were popular pets in the UK. But then reports began circulating that a disease linked to parrots had killed several people. Many people were afraid their family bird might catch the disease and infect them. So they simply opened the window and set Polly free. Could this have been the beginnings of the London flocks?

These are all interesting theories, and it’s possible that each of these incidents added to the parakeet population. But the first recorded sighting of a parakeet in the wild was in 1855––long before Jimi Hendrix or Katherine Hepburn stepped foot upon England’s shores. And the first large colony was observed in Kingston-upon-Thames in the late 20th century. Since then, the flocks have been growing and expanding their territory. Now they can be found in many of the large parks in and around London.

While their origin remains a mystery, it’s clear that London suits them. And like many immigrants who have come before them, I think they’ve decided to stay.

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11 comments

  1. They have now reached my parents home near Woking, Surrey, but only in the last few years. I remember seeing a few when visiting my grandparents near Teddington, in the 1980’s, but numbers have certainly increased over the years. I guess where they came from will always be a mystery.

    1. They are very friendly birds, and they are fun to ‘play’ with. Just stick out your arm and here they come. They have really multiplied around London over the past few decades. I read that they have become a ‘successful invasive species’ in 34 countries on 5 continents. So it’s not surprising they are in Woking. 🙂

  2. There was an interesting discussion about them on Radio 2 a couple of weeks’ ago and they were certainly supporting the Jimi Hendrix theory. They were talking about them being almost vermin, in the same category as pigeons! I don’t think they actually do any harm, though, do they?

    1. I guess it is like any non-indigenous species, they have few predators, but will be eating the foods our native smaller birds would normally eat. I like to see and hear them, brings a hint of the exotic to London.

    2. I like the Jimi Hendrix story too, but I’m afraid the flocks of birds predate him and his pair of parakeets. Although, I think that is around the time they began to increase in numbers – maybe it was all that ‘free love.’ 🙂
      I don’t think the birds are doing much harm now, but they could become a problem if their numbers keep growing.

    1. Yes, they are sweet little birds, and they seem to like to interact with humans – which makes people like them. 🙂

  3. They do sound as if they have really made London parks their home, Margo. I have just started reading a new book which may provide some more information about the life of these birds. It is “The Bird Way” by Jennifer Ackerman which, according to the ‘blurb’ on the cover examines the bird way of being and recent scientific research into how birds live and how they think. Sounds good! I will let you know when I have read it.
    Best wishes, Paula

    1. Wow! That does sound interesting. Let me know when you find out what those little birdies are thinking. The wild parakeets are so friendly. But I think they equate people with food because everyone loves to feed them. 🙂

  4. Hi Margo, what an interesting post! Sage and I noticed parakeets in the tree outside our living room window here in the Algarve region of Portugal. The birds’ colors and sounds are delightful to the senses!

    Paul

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