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Columnists

The Peckham parrots

Sarah Dean

I am really into birds. I might describe myself as a bit of a bird nerd. As a child I obsessively copied the pictures and memorised the facts in the Ladybird Book of Garden Birds. As an adult I've spent rather a lot of time on the RSPB website working out whether the brown thing on next doors Leylandii is a jay or a waxwing.

When I moved from the countryside to the urban sprawl I assumed that my twitching days were over. For a long time I lived in a block of flats on a main road, so my I-Spy Guide to British Birds remained unticked on the shelf as the only bird I could spot was the 'flying rat' synonymous with our glorious capital, the pigeon.

All this changed when I moved to my current locale. The Victorians planted lots of trees back when this was a fancy manor, then the Germans had a good try at bombing every street in the area. Fortunately they missed a bit, meaning today there are a few tree-lined streets and the neighbourhood is sound-tracked by bird song. Well I imagine it would be if the sirens and police helicopters were ever to stop.

Out the kitchen window I have spotted sparrows, blackbirds and yet more pigeons but there is also a jolly family of blue tits and a pair of magpies. That's two for joy isn't it? (Or is that sneezes? I can never remember.) Plus there is a rather cocky little robin who struts around like a kid in a red puffa-jacket, who seems to be saying 'Yeah you might think I look well good on a letterbox in the snow, but check me hopping about on your recycle bins in the sunshine!'

My most exciting spot however, isn't even listed in the I-Spy Guide. I didn't believe my eyes the first time I saw one of these birds swooping around, dismissing the bright feathers as a trick of the light. It was only when one of them landed on our fire escape, tipped its head to one side and began to preen itself with its bright red beak that I was certain of what I was looking at - a wild parakeet living in Peckham!

A bit of research revealed that there are estimated to be over 6,000 wild parakeets living in London. Where they have come from, no one is quite sure. Some say they originate in an escaped flock from Henry VIII's menagerie at Hampton Court. Others claim they appeared after a drug-hazed Jimi Hendrix liberated his pets from his Notting Hill flat in the sixties. My favourite rumour is that the parakeets were used as background dressing for the filming of The African Queen at Ealing Studios. Once the film had wrapped and Kathleen Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart left the set, the doors of the studios were flung wide and the parrots set free.

St Matthew encourages us to look at the birds for assurance that the Lord will provide all we need to sustain us. Wherever the parakeets came from, they seem to be thriving round our way. It is thrilling to see them swoop past in a vibrant green flash, and hear their chatter as they roost in the trees near the bus stop - a sound not unlike the electronic click of a text alert (perhaps a camouflage it has developed in recent years?). It makes me glad to see these Amazonian émigrés alongside the common pigeon pecking away at partially consumed take-aways strewn on the pavement outside of the kebab shop. His eye isn't just on the sparrow; it's on the scraggy looking pigeon, the cocky little robin, the Peckham parrot, you and me.