Published in Lionheart Magazine (Issue 9: Land, Water and Air) in April 2018
Wild parrots don’t belong in London but still, they are everywhere. I always find it a little jarring to see one – the shocking green and red typical of a parakeet is starkly out of place. It’s like we instinctively know that English birds should be brown and grey, with a hint of colour on the chest at most. The parakeets are striking outliers: they are characters of a brighter, sunnier place that’s clearly very far away from here.
I suppose your attitude to happening upon a flock of wild parrots in London will depend on who you are – will you respond to this uncanny encounter with awe, or with scepticism? They sure are adorable, darting between the trees, but seeming a wild parrot in an English park also feels like someone messed up and put the wrong bird down on the island.
I feel a bit like that myself in West London – a strange bird in a wrong place. I moved here from East London, my home of nearly a decade, for reasons that were good but ultimately not my ideal choice. I was pretty sour about it at first, but I’ve had some time to think about it and I’ve come to take a more philosophical approach to the matter: what makes a home?
The parrots made England their home by being big and bold. Now, wild parrots are actually one of the most common birds found in London, and their numbers are growing at a rapid pace as winters are getting milder. There’s more of them out West, but they’ve been spotted in all 32 boroughs. In Kensington Gardens there’s a group that’s apparently so tame they will eat out of your hand. Peckham, Brixton and Greenwich also have them living in the local parks. There’s lots of different types: Alexandrine parakeets have been seen in Lewisham, while Bromley has blue-crowned parakeets, and Amazonian orange-winged parakeets have made a home in Weybridge.
No one quite knows how London came to have wild parrots. Maybe they escaped from a film set, or from a hanger at Heathrow Airport, or were set loose when aviaries were damaged during the 1987 storms? The best story is that Jimi Hendrix once released a breeding pair of parrots on Carnaby Street in the 1960s, but like is often the case with myths like that, the truth is probably far less remarkable.
There’s a flock of feral parakeets living not far from my house, and I often see them in the trees in my garden. I enjoy their company a lot. I’ve never seen any wild parrots in East London, so the first time I spotted one out West it felt like it meant something – maybe this place would have its own charm too? London is so big, made up of all these little villages, meaning that wherever you are there will be things that you can’t find anywhere else. One of my favourite things is when someone says something smart to me that I hadn’t thought of. When that happens, it’s like my brain cracks open for a second, with the sheer thrill of it. Sometimes, places are a lot like that too.