Jimi Hendrix is NOT to blame for Britain's plague of 170,000 parakeets

Jimi Hendrix is NOT to blame for Britain’s plague of 170,000 parakeets: Scientists finally dispel urban legend by tracing historical sightings of the bright birds back to the 1800s

  • Legend claims the birds were released by Jimi Hendrix or Humphrey Bogart  
  • Others claim a plane crash or burglars in George Michael’s home released them 
  • New study disproves these theories and says it was likely due to many low-profile releases of unwanted pet parakeets over decades  

Urban legend has a range of outlandish theories for the origin of Britain’s parakeets, including Jimi Hendrix, Humphrey Bogart and George Michael. 

But their true origin in Britain has nothing to do with such glamorous celebrity myths, according to new research. 

Scientists disregarded these legends by mapping thousands of bird sightings over the UK in the last half a century. 

The study officially discredits the thought that a flamboyant release in the name of peace by Jimi Hendrix on Barnaby Street and a last-gasp escape from the set of Bogart’s ‘The African Queen’ .

Ring-necked parakeets are an exotic bird native to Asia which now terrorise many UK neighbourhoods.

The birds evolved for a much warmer climate than is found in Britain, but adapted swiftly and cope fine with British conditions, but favour the warmer areas of built-up cities to the frigid countryside.  

Researchers propose that their origin is more likely to be a series of separate releases of unwanted pets from many non-famous owners over decades.  

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The data was drawn from the plotting of parakeet sightings between 1968 and 2014, resulted in 5,072 points across the country. Researchers also looked at newspaper archives from 1800 onwards but did not find any news reports on parakeets being released by Hendrix or The African Queen 

The study officially discredits the thought that a flamboyant release in the name of peace by Jimi Hendrix (pictured) on Barnaby Street and a last-gasp escape from the set of Bogart’s ‘The African Queen’ 

URBAN MYTHS OF PARAKEET ORIGIN

 George Michael 

One wild theory claims that George Michael had a secret aviary in his house.

One day, burglars entered the property and broke it, allowing all his birds to escape.  

Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn  

Many people also know the theory that the birds escaped from the set of The African Queen, the film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

Initially brought in to make the film look like the African country it was set in, a claimed mass escape kick-started the parakeet takeover.    

The link to The African Queen emerged when large flocks started appearing near Isleworth in the 1990s. 

Some film historians also insisted that parakeets were never used in the production. 

Jimi Hendrix 

A popular myth states that Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair in Carnaby Street in the 1960s.

His breeding pair, called Adam and Eve, as a symbol of peace. 

Great storm of 1987  

Some suggest that the birds came from private collections during the Great Storm of 1987. 

Such immense damage could have freed the birds, kept as pets or in an  aviary, and allowed them to escape into the wild.  

Parrot fever 

Experts suspect many parakeets kept as pets may have been released by an outbreak of ‘parrot fever’ in both 1929, 1930 and 1952.

Headlines of 1952, such as ‘Stop imports of danger parrots’, could lead to a swift release of pets over safety fears.

Instead of killing the animal, people may have let them fly out the window.  

Syon park 

One outlandish theory states that modern parakeets emerged from a group of birds which escaped from an aviary in London’s Syon Park when a plane crashed through its roof.

Dr Steven Le Comber, who led the study from Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘The fun legends relating to the origins of the UK’s parakeets are probably not going to go away any time soon.

‘Our research only found evidence to support the belief of most ornithologists – the spread of parakeets in the UK is likely a consequence of repeated releases and introductions, and nothing to do with publicity stunts by musicians or movie stars.’ 

In 2019, there are more than 170,000 parakeets in the UK, with their population flourishing between 1986 and 1999. 

They compete against native birds – including blue tits and great tits – at garden bird feeders and can cause damage to orchards if their numbers increase further.

Large populations have been known to shred trees of their leaves in the height of summer if left unattended. 

Two main theories exist which people claim explains the origins of the exotic bird on British shores. 

The best known is that Jimi Hendrix released the first pair of breeding birds, called Adam and Eve, as a symbol of peace while stoned in London’s Carnaby Street in 1968.

Many people also know the theory that the birds escaped from the set of The African Queen, the film starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

Initially brought in to make the film look like the African country it was set in, a claimed mass escape kick-started the parakeet takeover.   

However, when the researchers looked at the area surrounding Carnaby Street in Soho, and the now-closed Worton Hall Studios in Middlesex, where The African Queen was filmed in 1951, there was no peak in sightings.

Lesser theories such as a break-in at George Michael’s house and burglars damaging his secret aviary as well were discounted.

Their findings also debunk the idea that modern parakeets emerged from a group of birds which escaped from an aviary in London’s Syon Park when a plane crashed through its roof. 

The data, drawn from the plotting of parakeet sightings between 1968 and 2014, resulted in 5,072 points across the country. 

Researchers also looked at newspaper archives from 1800 onward but did not find any news reports on parakeets being released by Hendrix or The African Queen.

The first time it made its way into the media was in 2005. 

It is now believed the birds took hold after a number of pet parakeets escaped, or were intentionally released by their owners in a panic over ‘parrot fever’.

This panic came around the time The African Queen wrapped so may have sparked the myth.

Parakeets, originally from the Indian sub-continent, were reported in Britain as far back as 1855, when one was seen in Norfolk.

The study, published in the Journal of Zoology, used geographic profiling to analyse spatial patterns of parakeet sightings.  

But there is evidence parakeet numbers may have been boosted by escapes from British bird houses damaged in the Great Storm of 1987.

Experts also suspect many parakeets kept as pets may have been released by an outbreak of ‘parrot fever’ in both 1929, 1930 and 1952.

Co-author Sarah Cox, from Goldsmiths, University of London, said: ‘It is easy to imagine the headlines of 1952, such as ‘Stop imports of danger parrots’ leading to a swift release of pets.

‘If you were told you were at risk being near one, it would be much easier to let it out the window than to destroy it.’ 

HOW DID PARAKEETS COME TO BRITAIN?

Ring-necked parakeets have been spotted in Britain since the 19th century.

The earliest recorded sightings were in Norfolk in 1855, Dulwich in 1893 and Brixton in 1894. 

Populations spiked after the 50s and between 1986 and 1999 saw a huge boom in numbers after first breeding in 1969.

The bird is native to southern Asia, but there are now around 8,600 breeding pairs of ring-tailed parakeets living throughout England, with the biggest population in west London.

Despite their tropical origin, the parakeets are able to cope with the cold British winters.

Despite being an introduced species, the ring-necked parakeet is protected in the wild under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. 

However, it may be killed or taken under the terms of some General Licences. It is illegal to release or allow them to escape into the wild. 

They prefer the warm cities over the frigid countryside and frequent suburban parks, large gardens and orchards, where food supply is more reliable. 

Even though Greater London and surrounding areas is still its stronghold, the species has been recorded in almost every county in England, and has reached Wales and the Scottish borders. 

Large populations have been known to shred trees of their leaves in the height of summer if left unattended.

Many theories exist focusing on where and how they came to flourish in Britain, with some including Jimi Hendrix and Humphrey Bogart.   

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