Catching 'keets

It's not that often I get a ringing tick these days. My ringing is pretty much exclusively done with mist-nets and, other than rarities, there aren't many species left that are likely to blunder into a net and stick there. Indeed, most of the likeliest options for a new species in-hand are the sort that usually bounce out of passerine nets: Collared Dove, buzzard, umm, Black Woodpecker... Perhaps the most likely of the lot – at least ringing in London – was Ring-necked Parakeet, a species I can't say I was overly keen to add to my list. Sometimes you have no choice, though, and this morning this chap blundered into one of my nets:

 
 

I say chap. Actually, I have no idea if it's male or female. Butler & Gosler (2004) give a formula for sexing that involves wing length, bill length, and number of yellow feathers on the underwing. Frankly, just ringing it and taking a wing length was enough of a blood bath – parakeets have quite long necks and a big ol' hooked bill (with that, plus the from-the-centre primary moult, it's not overly surprising they now appear next to falcons in the list) and even when you have one in a ringers grip they can still turn around and give you a nasty nip, or four – and I didn't have enough fingers to spare to start trying to count the yellow feathers on the underwing!

 
No parakeets were harmed during this morning's ringing session. In fact, I go the feeling it rather enjoyed taking chunks out of my finger...

No parakeets were harmed during this morning's ringing session. In fact, I go the feeling it rather enjoyed taking chunks out of my finger...

 

As for the subspecies, well, that's anyone's guess. Consensus seems to be they're Indian (manillensis/borealis) but beyond that it gets tricky. A BB paper back in 1993 suggested birds were borealis on the basis of biometrics and bill colour (all red). However, birds I've examined in the field – and this one in the hand – all seem to show dark lower mandibles and sometimes a darkish tip to the upper mandible. Perhaps the subspecific composition of London's parakeets has altered over time and more non-borealis genes have been added to the mix. With a wing length of 171 mm, this individual seems to sit right in the middle the two Indian subspecies (but is out of the range for either of the smaller African subspecies).

At least the ageing was straightforward: the pointed tips to the outer primaries age the bird a first calendar-year (see Butler & Gosler 2004 for a comparison). There don't seem to be too many photos of parakeet wings around so, despite the pretty dire quality of this photo, I'll post it here as a bit of extra reference material for anyone unfortunate to enough to catch one of these themselves.

 
The apparent difference in shape between P5, 6, and 7 is just an effect caused by the placement of the feathers in the photograph.

The apparent difference in shape between P5, 6, and 7 is just an effect caused by the placement of the feathers in the photograph.

 

All joking about taking my fingers off and not wanting to catch parakeets aside, this species is not often ringed in the UK and – given their status as an invasive alien species – any extra data on movements could prove useful. Just over 2,000 have been ringed in the UK, of which only about 30 have been recovered.

Less bitey birds ringed included a Blue Tit (not often I say that), a few Great Tits, and a Continental-looking Robin.