Parrots in Norway
The Norwegian landscape is a beautiful thing. Spruce and pine groves piled on the side of mountains and fjords, moose and deer popping up in backyards, woodbirds flitting about on pristine hiking trails. Parrots screeching bloody murder into your ears as you re-enter the city.
No you did not read that wrong. It’s not happening yet, it in a couple of decades parrots, a type of bird not really associated with the sub-Arctic, could be a regular presence around Norwegian cities. So how could this happen, and why is it really quite concerning?
Before we start, let me assure you that I love parrots. I grew up in a city filled with lorikeets and galahs, both of which I never really got sick of. I have two red-rumped parrots as pets (don’t worry, there’s zero chance they’ll ever escape). But it’s still a concern that they could be this far north so soon.
There are two main reasons that parrots, or I guess I should be saying Parakeets (specifically Psittacula kameri, the Ring-necked Parekeet) could be in Norway before 2050. The first is simple, and the same reason that many alien species spread to new lands. They are very popular pet species, and as with any pet species, some get out into the wild. Once there, the generalist nature of their diet means they adapt quickly to new ecosystems. There are now wild populations of the Ring-necked Parakeet in 35 countries across 5 continents. But surely Norway is too cold for them?
Maybe twenty years ago, but less and less these days. The Arctic and sub-Arctic are warming more quickly than much of the world, and a rise of 1 or 2 degrees could easily be enough to allow Ring-necked populations to establish in Norway. They’ve already reached locations like Brussels, and are well-established in England, especially in cities. Urban areas are typically warmer, and the birds have been helped by the presence of bird feeders in other countries. A slow progression north tracking a warming climate is not unlikely, especially given the success of Gunnar, a former pet who has survived five Norwegian winters thus far.
Read more about invasive species and climate change here.
So what’s the problem here? One of the biggest issues with alien species is that we don’t know much about their impacts until they’re well-established. But the fact that the Parakeets rely on hollowed out trees mean that they’ll be in competition with many other Norwegian birds, and the red squirrel. Antagonistic behaviour by the Parakeets has already been shown in the UK. The grey squirrel is another invasive species that is knocking on Norway’s door, and it would also likely vie for tree hollows with the locals. The introduction of both species could lead to severe declines in local populations of native species.
But what will be really interesting is the public’s reaction. Invasive species don’t come much more charismatic than these birds. I was at an exhibition the weekend before last presenting possible invasive species to the public, and the reaction to the thought of parrots in Norway by many adults wasn’t exactly negative. Surprisingly, it was often the kids who were quick to accept that the arrival of these birds, no matter how pretty they were, could have unfortunate consequences for native species. Whilst Norwegians tend to have a closer connection to nature than many other countries, Ring-necked Parakeets are quite popular as pets here, so proposed population control may face backlash, as it has with charismatic invasives in other countries (deer and horses in Australia being two examples).
As much as I love Ring-necked Parakeets, I am not looking forward to seeing them filter into the streets of my adopted home. I sincerely hope that the concept of parrots in Norway remains where it belongs, in a Monty Python sketch.