Parrots invade German cities and use an ecological niche

“New Sparrow”
Parrots invade German cities and use an ecological niche

Parrots sitting on a tree branch in Dusseldorf

© Horst Osinger/Picture Alliance

For some they are cute poultry, others are migratory pests: parrots have found a new home in Germany. Large old trees are their refuge – often in the city center, for example in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Heidelberg and Stuttgart.

They are bright spots in the urban bird world: green and yellow parrots have found their way into many large cities in Germany. Biologist Michael Brown estimates the number of ringed parrots with their bright green plumage and black collar at 20,000 specimens. “The alien species have found a free ecological niche for themselves,” explains Brown, who was scientifically involved in the Alexandrinus manillensis treatment. The birds found ideal living conditions on the Rhine in particular.

Of all places, the birds chose the trees in Dusseldorf’s posh kou as a place to sleep – much to the chagrin of retailers. It is a tourist attraction on the Rhine promenade in Cologne. “People feel like they’re in the Amazon,” says Horst Bertram, president of the Nature Conservation Society of Cologne-Napo. In Heidelberg, travelers are greeted in the evening in front of the main train station by the screaming of about 1,000 specimens on their sleeping trees at one of the city’s largest intersections. And in Stuttgart, yellow-headed Amazons search for food in the city’s Rosenstein indoor park.

The origins of the German population go back decades

“It’s much warmer in the cities than in the surrounding area,” says Brown, who has studied the Heidelberg group. This phenomenon is not limited to Germany, parrots are now also found in other countries of Central and Southern Europe. The ring-necked parakeet has spread from its native India to Southeast Asia and South America and is now the most common species of parrot worldwide, says conservation campaigner Bertram. “The ring-necked parrot is like a new sparrow.”

The origins of the German population go back decades. “In the ’60s and ’70s, there was parrot noise in Germany,” Bertram says. Breeding parrots was a popular pastime at that time. Specimens that escaped from captivity formed the basis for individual stocks. This was also the case in Stuttgart, where the only German group of yellow-headed Amazons can be found.

“At the time, bird lovers would gather to buy a mate for a runaway male,” says Bianca Horn, a longtime watcher of the 60’s parrots. From contact at the time, three young birds were born in 1986 and gave new impetus to a species nearly extinct in its Central American habitat. According to the Federal Government for Environmental Protection and Nature, there are only 3,500 specimens left there.

Yellow-headed Amazon on a tree in Stuttgart

A yellow-headed Amazon is native to Stuttgart

© McPHOTO / R. Mueller / / Photo Alliance

The photographer devoted her spare time to birds and their social behavior for seven years. I found that the animals are monogamous. But if the male loses his mate, do what it takes to steal the female from another. “Parrots don’t like to be alone,” the 50-year-old said. Even young birds learn these struggles of finding pairs in a playful way.

The hobby ornithologist is currently concerned about her favorite bird, Rodolfo. The mate has already laid eggs in the brood cavity, but the mate has disappeared and it is unlikely that she will be able to help her within 24 days of hatching or with the first flight of the young at two months old. Rodolfo could have hit a bird of prey or a car.

Parrots use beaks to survive

How can parrots survive in places thousands of miles from their natural habitat? Expert Brown says a strong, twisted beak is the key to their survival. This means that migrants are not dependent on grain and can crack nuts and hazelnuts as they would with pliers. Berries and fruits are also on the menu for vegetarians, of which there are many even in winter thanks to exotic plants such as the trumpet tree.

Unlike Egyptian geese, parrots are not very common. “They remain faithful to one place,” says biologist Brown. They don’t even think about traveling to the warmer climates in the winter. Tropical birds can handle low temperatures, albeit sometimes with frostbite on their claws. Parrots are not an invasive species that replaces native animals. They only compete with crows, woodpeckers and pigeons when looking for nesting holes in old trees.

The coexistence of human and animal is not entirely without conflict. In 2003, parrots nest in the thermal insulation of a nursing home in Heidelberg. Incubators solve the problem.

Minor conflicts with humans

In Cologne, they wanted to appoint a “deterrence officer” to scare the animals away after residents of dormant trees complained about the noise and droppings of the Cologne’s 3,000 birds. The beer garden worker was particularly affected, his umbrellas polluted by parrots every day. The birds moved 50 meters into the trees in front of a hotel whose guests now enjoy the hustle and bustle. “A stroke of luck,” says Bertram. So the Deterrent Officer didn’t have to come up with noises, lights, and illusory birds of prey. In the neighboring city of Düsseldorf, there has been talk of keeping parrots out of the park with hawks.

According to Bertram, searching for a common sleeping tree is a basic instinct of animals, which gives them safety. If they are expelled, they will split into several small groups. “Rock splitting means stress and anxiety for parrots.” His conclusion: “Then more people will be upset.”

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DPA

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