In an attempt to sift the truth from the bollocks I set about delving deep into the world of ornithology, aviaries and even Hollywood movies.
First of all, let’s set the scene:
You’re sat in Platt Fields Park, 4 cans of Strongbow down, disposable BBQ charring sausages on the outside and the sun is lightly toasting your face. As you realise you’re going to have to go to New Zealand Wines for another set of tinnies you spy a load of bright green parrots pissing about in the trees.
No, you’ve not had too much to drink, and neither is this some residue hallucination from those mushrooms you had on that burger last week – it’s real – South Manchester is home to a large flock of ring-necked parakeets – birds that you would typically only ever find in India or small parts of Africa.
So what are they doing here? Where did they come from? Can they talk? Do they like crackers?
First of all – they bloody love crackers.Take them a packet of Jacobs and they’ll be your best friend for life – which will be bloody ages because these feathery little mugs can live up to 30 years.
Unfortunately, they can’t talk – it’s not something that they really bother with but if you put them near a ringing telephone they will try and recreate it for you.
Next, where did they come from?
The story that’s been told me, and probably a lot of other people, is that a few years ago there was a student that lived in the area who wanted to start breeding the birds to make a bit of bunce for beer and weed and whatever else he wanted to buy.
He managed to breed around 5 or 6 of the birds but then got in an argument with his house mates about them and it all kicked off. In a fit of anger one house mate let them loose into the back garden – the parrots seeing the perfect opportunity for freedom took flight and disappeared into the night.
As a naturally hardy species, the parakeet is able to successfully adapt to rapidly changing living conditions, withstanding pretty much any impact of urbanisation or deforestation anywhere else in the world. It was the same in South Manchester as the flock grew and grew in size as the years went on.
What we’re left with now is a significant population of feral parakeets living all around the Fallowfield, Didsbury and Withington areas – adding to the approximate 30,000 of the parrots that are flying around the UK at any one time – mostly down south in London.
I’m still not convinced by the story though – it sounds a little bit too simple (and probably completely made up). Sure, the parrots could have come from a student breeding them but there’s also plenty of speculation as to where else they originated from.
One major theory is that they all came from the filming of The African Queen, the Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart film from 1951 where the crew decided that they couldn’t be arsed to take the birds back to India at the end of the shoot and so just released them into the wild.
The popularity of this theory coincides with on-set accounts of the parrots running wild as well as the time of when the birds first started being spotted around the UK. But seeing as the movie was filmed in London – how did they get up here?
Well, I think the simple answer is that we’ll never know. Either they flew up north from the set of The African Queen, were released from a student’s house or escaped from a rather shoddy pet shop – they’re here now and they’re here to stay.
I suppose there will continue to be each generation’s urban myth created around them – much like the fact that every generation has the story of the pop star who removed a rib to give themselves a blowie – the story remains the same but the details evolve each year.
So next time you’re in one of the parks in South Manchester, keep an eye out for some little green feathery buggers amongst all of the manky pigeons. Just don’t try catching one – they’ll take your bloody fingers off.