How tropical parakeets took over Brussels | ET REALITY


In the lively Brussels neighborhood of Flagey, you can be sure of two things: people will be lining up for fries at Frit Flagey and there will be pigeons nearby, pecking at the leftovers.

Just a few hundred meters away, at dusk, a scene unfolds that looks decidedly less Belgian.

Hundreds of electric green parakeets, more commonly associated with the tropics of West Africa or India than gray, rainy Brussels, flock to a tree next to a pond. They sleep there overnight, turning the tree a brighter shade of green, and take flight at dawn.

The number of rose-ringed parakeets in Brussels has increased from a few in the 1970s to around 10,000 today, making them one of the most common birds in Brussels, after pigeons and sparrows. As wild parakeet populations have grown (not only in Brussels but also in London), Paris and more than 100 other cities in Europe – researchers are trying to understand how a tropical bird has bloomed in cold climates.

One explanation for the thousands of parakeets in Brussels today is that they are descendants of a much smaller group of birds that were released in the 1970s at a small zoo and theme park, Meli Park Heysel, in the city.

According to local lore, zoo director Guy Florizoone released the birds because he wanted to add a splash of color to the city. “The beginning of the Brussels populations was certainly the release of several dozen birds from the zoo,” said Diederik Strubbe, an environmental scientist at Ghent University in Belgium, who studied budgerigar populations for his PhD. thesis.

When contacted by phone, Florizoone, now 80, said he had released 40 to 50 parakeets in the early 1970s as part of an experiment he called “Birds in the Wild,” so visitors could see them outside. From home. Most of the budgies returned, she said. Some didn’t.

However, he said his experiment “has little connection” with the huge population growth of parakeets in Belgium and across Europe, including Britain. “It is impossible that such numbers could have flown over the English Channel,” she said. “They’re not capable of that.”

(Mr. Florizoone’s wife, Marie-Claire, is less convinced of her husband’s role in the spread of parakeets in Brussels: “The only thing I know is that my husband is not responsible,” she said, “although people still think that .”)

Florizoone said the warmer climate in Europe had only accelerated budgie population growth, a link confirmed by the ParrotNet Project from the University of Kent in England, which studies how parakeets affect ecosystems.

In addition to milder winters, parakeets benefit from a lack of predators and abundant food supplies in cities like Brussels, ornithologists said.

“Urban areas are like an all-you-can-eat restaurant,” Dr. Strubbe said.

Parakeets have been destructive not only to crops but also to other animals, including bats.

Jimmy Foucault, a journalist walking by the parakeet-filled tree on a Sunday afternoon in September, said the abundance of tropical birds in Brussels was worrying. “These kinds of species in Belgium are just strange,” he said.

But in Brussels they have coexisted in harmony with other species thanks to the city’s preservation of old trees that are perfect for cavity-nesting birds like parakeets, said Jean-Yves Paquet, director of Natagora, an organization focused on environmental preservation. in Brussels. (In London, the ancient parks of Hyde Park and Richmond Park are also popular places for budgies.)

“There is actually enough space for everyone,” Paquet said.

Authorities have asked the public not to feed the birds, but they are not actively trying to limit their population growth, he said. Having “really attractive wildlife” can have positive mental health benefits, said Jim Groombridge, president of ParrotNet and professor of biodiversity at the University of Kent.

While some people love parakeets, others see them as noisy threats. When they settled in front of the former NATO headquarters in Brussels, the birds caused so much damage that officials tried various methods to encourage them to move, including Playing recordings of hawks and hawks. of the speakers mounted between the trees.

Still, Matthew Klimow, former deputy assistant secretary general of NATO, remembered the birds fondly. “Parakeets were part of the charm of urban life in a city adorned by acres of large leafy trees,” he wrote in an email from Turkmenistan, where he is now a U.S. ambassador.

One September afternoon, Brigitte Dufour, a human rights lawyer, stopped to admire the birds that gathered at dusk, chirping loudly. “To me, they just bring me joy,” Dufour said, as she walked her dog, Roméo. She said she loved waking up to the sound of parakeets chirping every morning, which gave her the feeling of being surrounded by nature, rather than being in a big city. “I think that if they can coexist with other species here, why not?”

claire moises contributed with reports.

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