Preliminary distribution study of the Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri (Scopoli 1769) in Greece
Free populations of Ring-necked Parakeet have started to show up during the last years in Greece. In the present report their distribution in the country is displayed in summary, as known from the recorded observations of the species in the wild from the late '80s to the end of 2006. Also reported in summary are all the existing data concerning its nesting behavior and general habits in Greece.
Introduction: Parrots in temperate zone
With more than 300 different species, parrots are one of the largest and most popular families of birds, although they are confined mainly in tropic, sub-tropic or other warm areas of the planet. Few species are known in the temperate zone, the most nameable being the Carolina Parakeet Canuropsis carolinensis, which although being abundant in North America, was driven to extinction by man within a few decades.
The family of parrots has not been represented for thousands of years in Europe (fossils have been found in France from the age of Miocene). Nevertheless, several species have invaded recently as escapes, creating breeding colonies in Europe.
Such is the case of the Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri, a bird whose distribution was confined to south Asia and the African continent south of the Sahara.
In the last few years, populations of this bird have appeared in many European countries (G.Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal, etc), nesting in some of them. As this bird is not a typical migrant, it's almost impossible for it to have come through the known migration routes. Furthermore, as it is a very common cage bird, we can assume that the free-ranging European populations have originated from accidental or deliberate releases of captive birds.
It's very indicative that in Europe different subspecies have been recorded: From its 4 subspecies that exist worldwide, P.k.krameri (north Afrotropics, occasional in Western Palearctic), P.k.borealis (Pakistan and north India), P.k.manillensis (south India and Sri Lanka) και P.k.parvirostris (northeast Αfrotropics), only P.k.parvirostris is not included in the official checklist of the observed species of the Association of European Records and Rarities Committees (AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, with distributional notes on subspecies - 15th Draft-2003).
Parakeets in Greece
The first official report for its presence in wild state in Greece was written in 1996 in Hellenic Ornithological Society's «Phylloscopos» bulletin (volume 7-8). The present report is the first attempt to present the status of the Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri in Greece.
For the distribution data, personal observations as well as records from many members and supporters of the Hellenic Ornithological Society have been used, cited in the Appendix.
From the available data, it seems that the species has started to have a regular presence in Greece for the last 15 years, from the early '90s, with flocks observed in several areas of the country, especially urban. All the known -to the writer- records of the species are shown to the following map.
Typical examples are the cases of Glyfada, Filothei and lately of 'Pirgos Vasilisis' park in Attica, where one can see flocks consisting of 80 to 100 birds. Moreover, the species has bred successfully in the last few years in Psychiko, Filothei and Thessaloniki. Noteworthy is the fact that the Glyfada Prefecture in Attica is one of the first areas that observations of flocks of these birds started to occur. At that time, the largest airport of Greece was located there (Helliniko Airport). This may justify the assumptions of some people that free parakeets originate from escapes from sanitarian quarantines operating under the framework of international bird trade.
The species has been observed mainly in the coastal and densely populated areas of Greece, especially in Attica basin (in downtown parks and suburbs as well), in other areas of Attica, like Artemis and Scala Oropou, parts of northern Peloponnese, as well as in Thessaloniki and many Aegean islands, especially the Dodecanese.
The presence of large numbers of these birds in Filothei led to the first attempt to facilitate the distribution and stay of the species in the area. More specifically, in 1997 Moraitis private High school, in co-operation with the Municipality of Filothei installed six wooden artificial nests in Eucalyptus trees in Filothei gully, where significant numbers of these birds had been observed, reaching the number of several tens at some times.
The boxes were very rapidly used by birds, at least as shelters. One year later, a chick was found by pupils of the same school, to a location very close to the area with the artificial nests. Two years later, in the building of Moraitis school in Psychiko, at least two pairs of Ring-necked Parakeets used the air-ducts above the windows of the last floor as nesting sites.
Stavros Kalpakis (pers. comm. Feb 2007) observed a nest of a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets in a tree of a park of Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki in the spring of 2004.
The species seems to gradually disperse in suitable areas. In between, it may use temporary stations, which are abandoned if they aren't suitable enough. Such a case is the breeding attempt of a pair of Ring-necked Parakeets in one of the very few tree stands of Paros Island, in the Cyclades, recorded by Martin Gaetlich (pers. comm. Jan 2007), who could not find the birds in later visits to the island. Martin assumes that the species is making a dispersing attempt and if successful in an area, stays; otherwise it continues its dispersion taking its chances on other areas. This also may justify its distribution on the Arabic states, where Martin works as a researcher.
Habitat selection - Habits
Along with the distribution and census records, some first evidence for the preferred habitats has been recorded. At present, it seems to be confined to urban and sub-urban areas with large gardens and parks. Observations have also been made for the feeding habits, which showed that this exotic bird feeds on various seeds of garden and park trees, such as palm tree dates, especially of the Canaries Palm tree Phoenix canariensis which is very widespread in the gardens of Greece, and of the exotic Melia azedarach Ash-tree. As Martin Gaetlich reports (pers. comm. Jan 2007) this Ash-tree is also a major constituent of the diet of Ring-necked Parakeets that have recently colonized Arabic countries, like Oman.
It is also very common for Parakeets to seek food in Cypresses Cypressus sempervirens. The birds seem to eat the small seeds inside the cypress cones, as the wooden shells are not consumed.
They have been also observed being feeding on seed of ripe bitter oranges Citrus aurantium (ornamental tree from India-Myanmar), almonds Prunus dulcis and shelled peanuts Pistacia vera.
The existing data show that this species should be included to the official checklist of the birds of Greece, since it seems to maintain a viable population in our country for many years.
It's worth mentioning that several other species of Parrots have been recorded in Greece, like the Senegal Parrot Poicephalus senegallus. There are indications leading to the conclusion that at least a pair has bred in 'Antonis Tritsis' Environmental Park at Ilion, Attica. There are, however, many records of other escaped 'cage birds'.
Appendix: Ring-necked Parakeet observers in Greece (1989-2006)
Panagiotis ASMANIS, Thomas ARAPIS, Gerasimos BERIATOS, Dimitris BERTZELETOS, Stratis BOURDAKIS, Apostolis CHRISTOPOULOS, Michalis DRETAKIS, Thord FRANSSON, Martin GAETHLICH, Maria GANOTI, Miltiades GLETSOS, C.HIND, M.IVOVIC, Z.KIPRIOTAKIS, Panagiotis LATSOUDIS, Marco MASSETI, Roger MELLROTH, Christos PAPAGEORGIS, Dimitris PAPANDROPOULOS, Nikos PROBONAS, Eleftherios RANTOS, Anastasios SAKOULIS, Dimitris SARLIKIOTIS, Spiros SKAREAS, Eleftherios STAVRAKAS, Labros STAVROGIANNIS, Rigas TSIAKIRIS, E.TSIROZIDIS, Constantina TSONAKA, Christos VLACHOS, Georgios YFANTIS, Stamatis ZOGARIS.
The full report with analytical data over the observation sites, the dates and the number of birds recorded has been handed over to the Hellenic Rarities Committee.
Distribution map: Ring-necked Parakeet showings in Greece (1989-2006)