Walking along one of the many canals or in one of the easy going parks you cannot miss the bright green coloured parakeets that inhabit the Dutch capital city. However, for many it is mysterious how these tropical birds seem to thrive here so easily. The combination of a low breeding success with the availability of good nest holes and food seems to allow this exotic species to live peacefully next to its native neighbours.
A Ringnecked Parakeet - halsbandparkiet - sitting on branch of a tree in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam.
It is well known that tropical parakeet species are popular as pets. Interestingly, an increasing number of Ringnecked Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) have adapted to live in urban areas far away from their tropical home grounds and established feral populations in a number of European cities.
A growing group of Ringnecked Parakeets – often confused with parrots – have been living in Amsterdam since 1976. The very first birds were released pets that managed to survive the cold dutch winter by living in old trees in the well known Vondelpark. In the meantime, the exotic species has expanded to areas far outside the city centre. With their bright green feathers the exotic birds distinguished themselves from the dutch native species.
The Vondelpark is the main breeding place of these social birds. Bird countings in 2004 and 2006 revealed that more than 2000 Ringnecked Parakeets were living in Amsterdam. Biologist Roelant Jonker who was the organiser of the countings postulated that 99 % of the birds was born in the wild (dutch link).
Apparently, for the birds it is not even a problem to find food and warmth during the cold dutch winters, with the continuous feeding by people always having played an important role. Nevertheless, their breeding success is much lower in West-Europe compared to India where these beautiful birds are native (dutch link).
A ring-necked parakeet on a tree. Photograph: Greenpeace/Baker
Although the increase in numbers is less strong than was feared for, the careful monitoring of exotic species is important. Research has shown that about 1 in 10 exotic species manifests itself as a plague (dutch link). Although there is not much hard proof, it has been shown that in areas where many Ringnecked Parakeets are living, lower numbers of birds species that also nest in holes are observed.
The possible competition for nestholes, resulted in a front-page article in Trouw, a major dutch newspaper, stating ‘Indian Ringnecked Parakeet expels our native woodpeckers’. Furthermore, recently members of the Dutch Parliament stated that this tropical bird species should be repelled because of their nest hole competition.
Overall, in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium, it seems however that the ecological impact of the green exotic bird is low. The birds have good possibilities to further expand their living area beyond the parks of the dutch ‘Randstad’, thereby only to a small amount influencing the populations of native birds. Furthermore, most people living in Amsterdam as well as the many tourists seem to like the brightly coloured birds. SOVON, the society for dutch bird research, even announced 2004 as the year of the Ringnecked Parakeet.
Walking through the snow covered Vondelpark I see a small group of the brightly feathered birds high up on the leafless branches of an old tree. Although their high-pitched twittering is noisy, their beautiful green feathers contrast enormously with the dreary tints of winter grey. Furthermore, their intense social interactions and assertive behaviour make them interesting to observe. If indeed the following years the birds will continue to be able to live jointly with the native birds, for me and many others the birds are a colourful addition to Amsterdam life.