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Wild Parakeets in San Francisco

Wild parakeets, escapees from pet stores and pet shipments, have set up housekeeping in cities from Los Angeles to Montreal, London to Madrid. In San Francisco, former rock guitarist Mark Bittner near a colony of red-headed parakeets, that have been living in Telegraph Hill since the 1990s. They were imported from Ecuador and Peru and either were released or escaped. Bittner has gotten to know them personally.

One of them he calls Scrapper, because he's been henpecked for years by a mate who plucked out all his breast feathers, until he finally left her and took up with a younger female. There's Fanny, who sits on his shoulder and take seeds from his mouth. "Generally the birds are pretty popular," Bittner says. "They are colorful, noisy and funny. They do a lot of acrobatics, things you don't usually think of a bird as doing. They hang upside down from the power lines. They chase each other and fight. Yet they also make devoted pairs. You often see them preening each other and being, well, 'lovey dovey.' People enjoy seeing all of that."

The flock now has 85 birds, and is getting bigger each year. In other cities, parakeet colonies are even bigger. In Bakersfield, California, there are over 1,000 ring-necked parakeets, that are native to India and sub-Saharan Africa. They probably came to Bakersfield after a storm destroyed their aviary in 1977. Alison Sheehey has studied them since 1998. She says, "Many urban plants are from tropical to subtropical climates. This established a habitat for the birds long before they took up residence. There are also plenty of backyard fruit and nut trees that keep them well fed."

In London, these parakeets have been around for 30 years. In 1996, there were 1,500 of them, but now there are 7,000. In the fall of 2002, a parakeet flock stripped a vineyard on the outskirts of London of its grapes. "It would have been a really fantastic year," says the vinyard's Teige O'Brien. "But we ended up with just 500 bottles of red wine. The parakeets seem to be immune to scarecrows, things that go bang and all the other bird-scaring devices. I suspect this is going to be an annual problem."

Rupert Sheldrake has studied a psychic parrot, as well as dogs with ESP.

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