The adaptable Ringneck Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) has been introduced to more far-flung places – Egypt, Macao, Singapore, Zanzibar, Great Britain, and California, to name a few – than perhaps any other parrot. To this impressive list I would like to add a population that is little-known and quite unexpected – the tiny flock that lives in New York City.
From Indian Woodlands to Bronx Streets
After catching glimpses of the phantom Ringnecks while birding along the Bronx River as a youth (and doubting what I had seen), I lost track of them until I began working as a bird keeper at the Bronx Zoo. Shortly thereafter I came upon an injured Ringneck and began seeing the flock of 10-15 birds regularly. The individual I cared for was missing several toes and showed other signs of battling the long, cold NY winters, but was otherwise in fine shape.
The birds proved to be of a subspecies regularly imported from South Asia, the Indian Ringneck Parakeet (Psittacula krameri manillensis). I tried to trace the story of their origins, and learned that a small group had apparently escaped from a crate at Kennedy Airport in the early 1970’s. I’ve not been able to confirm the story, but I’m sure that the Jackrabbits populating Kennedy’s airfields originated as escapees, so, why not….
Adjusting to City Life
The flock remained stable in numbers for many years, with deaths and births cancelling each other out, and I never saw more than 15 individuals. This puzzles me, as Ringnecks have established large feral populations in several European cities that are likely as “unwelcoming” for parrots as is NYC. The Bronx birds are also quite wary, which contrasts with their bold demeanor in other places – but this may have been a consequence of having survived the “bad years” in the Bronx (early on I learned to watch my mouth – and back – as well!).
Natural Range and Habitat
The preferred habitat of Ringneck Parakeets is open woodland, but they adapt readily to gardens, parks, farms and even quite large cities. Populations in some parts of Africa and Sri Lanka inhabit dry savannah and arid scrub habitats.
Ringnecks and People
Flocks of over 15,000 individuals have been reported in India, where the species is generally described as “fearless”. Indeed, they are considered to be agricultural pests throughout much of their range, and have been known to attack and open grain bags stockpiled at rail stations (a habit that has also been picked up by several species of Cockatoo in Australia).
Long hunted for this reason, Ringneck Parakeets are in sharp decline in certain agricultural districts in India. This is, however, offset somewhat by their ready adaptability to town and city life in other areas.
Pease see my article on Monk Parrots for the story of another “city parrot”.
A video of London’s feral Ringnecks is posted here.
Pease see also the American Museum of Natural History article “Exotic Birds in NYC”.
In Part II I’ll cover the Ringneck’s long history in captivity (long as in “favored pet of Socrates”!) and discuss its care.
Rose-ringed Parakeet image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by J.M.Garg
Feral male Rose-ringed Parakeet image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by London looks and Snowmanradio