London’s favourite little green birds have been suffering a nasty fate over the past couple of years. Parakeets in the city have become prey to peregrine falcons – the world’s fastest bird.
Peregrine falcons usually snack on pigeons, but during the first Covid lockdown they had to turn to the green parrots. The predators came to UK cities in the 1990s after being attracted by the large numbers of pigeons, but they had to change their eating habits when people stayed home during lockdown, meaning there were far fewer pigeons around. There are thought to be 40 breeding pairs of the falcons in the capital.
Researchers from King’s College London and citizen scientists worked together to monitor live streams of 42 peregrine falcon nests in 27 cities around England to observe the birds’ diets during three breeding seasons.
The first breeding season – between March and June 2020 – coincided with the first Covid lockdown in England. At this time in London, pigeons made up 35 percent of the falcon’s prey, starlings 36 percent and parakeets 18 percent. At the same time of year in 2021 and 2022, when there were far fewer coronavirus restrictions, pigeons made up 49 percent of falcons’ diets in London, starlings 29 percent and parakeets 15 percent.
According to Brandon Mak from King’s College London, more parakeets were gobbled up during lockdown because there weren’t any tourists dropping food scraps in central London, meaning pigeons retreated from the city centre to the suburbs. Peregrines had to look elsewhere for their dinner, instead eating starlings and the green parrots.
It’s thought that ring-necked parakeets, native to South Asia and Central Africa, took over London in the mid-twentieth century when people who had the birds as pets released them into the city over fears of ‘parrot fever’.
Now that life has returned to normal peregrine falcons are going back to their pigeon-heavy diet. But Mak added that the growing population of the predatory falcons could be a good thing, as they will keep high numbers of pigeons and parakeets in check.
‘Eventually the numbers of the predators would reflect the number of prey,’ Mak said. ‘Over time, once the peregrines reach saturation, you will start seeing lower numbers of pigeons or parakeets.’
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