Switzerland

Color That Pigeon! Parakeets Invade European Cities

Wild parakeet populations are expanding in many European cities, where they enjoy the relative warmth of dense urban settings and have easy access to food.

Urban parakeets in Barcelona, Spain
Urban parakeets in Barcelona, Spain
Nathalie Jollien

LAUSANNE — Walking in some large European cities, it can be surprising to see swarms of birds with unusual colors and emitting shrill noises. The exotic creatures look and sound decidedly out of place — because they are. They're tropical parakeets! And yet they're happy and thriving, with populations in some urban cores in the hundreds or even thousands.

The European monitoring platform ParrotNet identified more than 50,000 parakeets in London, around 12,000 in Brussels, 1,500 in Amsterdam's city center and 1,000 in Madrid. The birds belong to the parrot family, with two particular species predominant in Europe: the rose-ringed parakeet and the monk parakeet.

While these birds seem to enjoy themselves here, they actually come from other latitudes. The rose-ringed parakeet is usually found in the tropical zones of the African and Asian continents. The monk parakeet comes from Latin America.

So how did these exotic birds come to colonize the Old Continent? And why are there so many of them? Blame humans, and their taste for caged birds.

Parakeets are thought to have first taken root in Europe in the 1970s after being released either intentionally or by accident. In 1974, for instance, a zoo in Brussels released some 40 rose-ringed parakeets. That same year, at the Paris Orly Airport in France, approximately 50 parakeets escaped from a container. Something similar happened in 1990, this time at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Since then, parakeet populations have grown steadily. The mild climate of Western Europe's coastal countries — especially in England and the Netherlands — enabled the tropical birds to survive. And to survive cold winters, parakeets rely on food that generous inhabitants put in feeders.

Suited for city life

Once free, these parakeets became city dwellers. Cities, with their densely packed buildings, tend to be a bit warmer than outlying areas. Predators are rare. And food — in the form of scraps left by people, or the ornamental plants found in many urban parks — is readily available.

When mating season comes, rose-ringed parakeets search for holes in trees or old walls to build their nests. But as the number of these holes is limited, birds compete against each other ­— especially against sparrows, starlings, nuthatches and chickadees that also use these cavities.

In these street fights, parakeets are usually the winners as they have two important advantages: size and numbers. "They're slightly larger than rival birds," says Daniel Cherix, honorary professor at the University of Lausanne's Department of Ecology and Evolution. "But their main characteristic is that they travel and nest in groups. So parakeets benefit from greater numbers."

That also explains the invasive nature of the species. They have both food and shelter; thus they can easily breed and slowly take over the native species.

But should we necessarily be worried about the arrival and spread of these colorful birds? Professor Cherix says the arrival of a new species isn't, in itself, a problem. "We have to remember that all existing species were once "invasive,"" he says. "In the case of parakeets, what could be a problem environmentally speaking is that they arrived so suddenly. Local species didn't get enough time to adapt and specialize themselves in an ecological niche."

Parakeets became city dwellers — Photo: Ingrid Taylar

As such, local birds may face the risk of extinction. Ornithologist Laurent Valloton, who works at the Museum of Natural History of Geneva, thinks that for now, at least, the threat is only to certain already-rare bird and bat species. But continued vigilance is certainly needed, he says.

From pets to pests

In cities where parakeet populations have grown to significant numbers, the birds are spreading into the outskirts in search of new spaces. That can spell problems for suburban fields and orchards. In their native continents, parakeets that attack crops can be a real nuisance. In India, for example, swarms of parakeets have been known to wreak havoc on grain fields, and on lemon and plum trees. The economic losses, in such cases, can be considerable.

"In Europe, the cost of invasive species as a whole is estimated at 12 billion euros a year," says Daniel Cherix. "This figure takes into account the ecological, economical and medical aspect." Medical issues come into play with species like tiger mosquitoes, which are native to Southeast Asia and can transmit diseases such as yellow fever and dengue.

For all of the reasons above, it's important to halt the spread of certain problematic species. But how? Luis Manso, who works in Zaragoza, Spain, with the city's Environmental Protection Unit, says one technique they tried on monk parakeets was to pierce the birds' eggs, but then leave the eggs in the nests to trick the parents. The method proved, however, to be inefficient, prompting the city to take a more direct approach: shooting the birds. Other cities have tried non-lethal methods, like sterilization and trapping them with nets, but with little success.

Of course as time goes on, we're likely to take these birds for granted. What once seemed exotic will be commonplace — like swans. Few people recall that swans are also an imported species. "Swans came from Asia and were introduced in Switzerland as an ornamental bird in the 19th century," says Laurent Vallotton. Nowadays it's hard to imagine the Lake Geneva region without them.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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