Posted by: Ross Gardner | January 25, 2016

Pandemonium

‘Pandemonium’ – the collective noun for a gathering of parrots.  Should you ever witness such a thing, it is word most descriptively applied to a noisy and colourful event.

It is an event I recently travelled to go and find.  It was a journey that began with a walk to my local rail station.  Then a change onto the London Underground at Fenchurch Street station and then….. well, I got off at East Acton and walked the short distance to Wormwood Scrubs, not heading on to Heathrow for a flight to the tropics as the opening lines might have suggested.

The first thing most people think of on hearing the name of my destination is the infamous West London prison.  Its name though, was taken from the area of open space which its walls overlook.  Wormwood Scrubs covers some 67 hectares, more than half of which is comprised of rough grassland, scrub and woodland, managed with wildlife in mind.  I had never visited before and on a cold but sunny January afternoon was somewhat surprise to find a place of peace and – I would go as far to say – tranquillity, unexpected so close to the very heart of the city.  The tit flocks among the trees, the trilling of robin from the scrub and whirring of wren among the sprawling brambles were well received, but not unexpected.  The stonechat and meadow pipit were more of a surprise in the middle of the city.  The place was full of many kinds of birdlife, including a couple ring-necked parakeets.

Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri).  Ross Gardner 2016.

Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri). Ross Gardner 2016.

It was these last that provided the ulterior motive for my visit.  Having become established from escapes and releases in the 1960s their wild British breeding population has grown to more than 8000 pairs, mostly centred around London and the Home Counties.  The total population is perhaps as many as 30,000.  They have established sizeable winter roosts at various locations in the South-east, including, by all accounts Wormwood Scrubs.  I did have some doubts though.  I hadn’t found reference to the roost here within the last three years and the general paucity of the birds at large today did make me wonder (with a lack of much in the way of knowledge of parakeet roosting behaviour!) if the roost had moved to another location, nearby but unbeknown to me.

They had me guessing right to the last.  Not until 16:30 and with the sun just below the horizon did they begin to gather in number, at first with groups of 50 or so, speeding in low across the ground, along the belt of woodland that edges the park, so that within a few moments there were 200 or so sat squawking next to the path in the crowns of some decidedly nondescript trees.  They soon started arriving in number, a 100 at a go, three or four, or even more times a minute.  Sometimes they swept in along the woodland edge, other times careering across the open playing field, silhouetted in the afterglow of the sunset.  It is difficult to say just how many eventually came to roost, but there must have easily been at least 3000.  The racket was tremendous.

Pandemonium indeed.

The gathering roost.  Ross Gardner 2016.

The gathering roost. Ross Gardner 2016.

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