A few months ago, the mayor of Castelnau-le-Lez announced the opening of a five-acre park only a few minutes from my home. Since I have a postage-stamp-sized plot in front of my house and an even smaller one in the rear, this well-tended acreage has become my backyard.
The park comes complete with playground equipment, trees, shrubbery, walkways, formal plantings, exercise gear, large open areas for Frisbee games, and a few wild creatures.
The most common tree in the park is the platane, introduced in France in 1770 for its firewood. Later, Napolean planted platanes on either side of roads to provide shade for travelers and marching soldiers. They also line the Canal du Midi.
Because of their stately grandeur, platanes were frequently planted in rows on the estates of the wealthy. And today, given their history, they are considered the “king of trees” in France.
Perhaps thirty or forty survive in this park. In a few months, the trees will leaf out and provide shady spots for picnics.
Feral cats used to populate the acreage before it was turned into a park. But since the park’s fortuitous opening, I’ve seen only one cat—a black-and-white tabby that quickly disappeared into the shrubbery when it saw me.
But the birds! Now that’s a different story. I love looking into the sky and seeing parakeets fly around. The first time I noticed a pair of green birds, I wondered if they were escaped parrots. But when I saw more of them on subsequent days, I realized that perhaps they had colonized this park and were no longer escapees.
Parakeets Are Expats like Me
I’ve since learned that the green parakeets are native to the tropical forests of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
According to authories, about a hundred birds escaped when their cages were being unloaded from a plane at the Orly airport. They quickly colonized the major cities in France and spread across Europe.
In 2009, about 1,500 parakeets lived in Paris. Now the number is estimated at 8,000-9,000.
Although they spread out during the daytime to find food—cereal, fruit, buds, and flowers—they collect in a “dormitory” and sleep nearby at night.
Even though they are common today, they are still considered an invasive species. However, since they do not harm other birds or the environment, they are well tolerated—even enjoyed by amateur bird watchers like me.
They are a bit noisy, and they have been wild too long to be domesticated, but both shortcomings are usually overlooked. The humans and parakeets mostly peacefully coexist.
I find their presence amazing. No walk in the park is complete for me now unless I spot at least one pair of the green birds. My record is four pairs.
Bird experts estimate that about 550 parakeets live in Montpellier. Castelnau-le-Lez, where I live, is adjacent to Montpellier. I keep hoping more and more of them move to my backyard park.
Sir David Frederick Attenborough, an English broadcaster, biologist, natural historian, and author, said that “Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”
He’s right. Especially wild green parakeets.
Cover photo by Dick Daniels CC BY-SA 3.0