By the time you are reading this my wife and I should be in Sri Lanka touring central and southern parts of the country with an ornithological guide. Although, the focus of our attention will be on the country’s natural history, we will also be visiting some of the cultural highlights along the route. Finally, after twelve days of touring we will finish with four days of relaxing at a beach resort to celebrate our wedding anniversary.
I’m looking forward to discovering a new avifauna and I spent a few days over Christmas studying my new field guide to the birds of Sri Lanka. It was such a surprise to find that Santa knew exactly what I wanted as a present, I must have been good in 2018! Flicking through the book I was pleased to see quite a number of species that I’d encountered on a previous trip to India and then I saw a familiar Murcian bird. This got me thinking of the non-native species that can occasionally be seen here in the region.
The bird in question was the Rose-Ringed Parakeet (Cotorra de Kramer), a particularly pretty green parrot with a long, pointed tail that looks very cute and is a popular cage bird. I have mainly seen them in Los Urrutias and other coastal areas where some populations have established themselves, but they are not native birds as they come from Africa and Southern Asia. They have arrived by the hand of man, either as escaped pets or deliberately released.
There is another close relative called the Monk Parakeet (Cotorra Argentina) that is far more numerous and has established growing populations in Murcia and many coastal towns. They are very noticeable in Cartagena, as like small jetfighters, they fly around the city emitting their noisy screams. Some would say that they are now becoming an annoying pest. They are natives of South America and definitely do not belong in Europe, but they are increasingly common in many of the larger Spanish cities.
If you follow the Spanish news then you may be aware of the ongoing political debate about the invasion of a long list of non-native species of birds, insects, fish, plants, crustaceans, molluscs and mammals. Recently, laws were introduced which require the relevant authorities to eliminate them. The decision had been taken because they can conflict with native species who may, like the red squirrel in the UK, struggle to survive in the light of new competition. These new species can also introduce diseases to which the local population has not developed resistance, or they compete for diminishing food sources or occupy the best nesting sites. Whatever the reasons, their introduction can put native populations under increasing stress.
This new law is controversial because vested commercial or ‘sporting’ interests have lobbied for some species to be exempt from the new law. Here in Murcia for example, the hunting lobby has successfully argued for the exclusion of Mouflon from this list. Mouflon or Arrui, is a type of mountain goat that was imported many years ago from Morocco. The animals bred very successfully and herds are seen regularly in the Sierra Espuña amongst other places. It is wonderful to see them, but unfortunately their presence has had a negative effect on the population levels of the native Spanish Mountain Goat (Cabra Montés). Herds of Mouflon make wonderful targets for the sportsmen who like to hunt them and the power of the hunting lobby far exceeds the political weight of environmentalists wishing to protect native species.
What about the beautiful, exotic Parakeets that are such a pleasure to see? Well, I haven’t seen a lot of scientific evidence that the Parakeets are having a negative impact on native bird species, but I am aware of comments within the birding community that the Parakeets compete very aggressively for nesting sites and local food resources. More importantly for the local residents, Parakeets can be anti-social neighbours as they are very noisy and build huge communal nests in trees, parks and streets. You would need good sound proofing if your bedroom window was close to one of their breeding colonies!
I’m not too sure where I stand on the issue of the Parakeets, but there is no doubt that some introduced non-native species are very damaging to local wildlife and eco-systems. For example, species like the American Mink (Visón Americano) are a major threat to the smaller European Mink (Visón Eoropeo) that has been driven close to extinction in Spain by their bigger and more aggressive cousin. Therefore, I favour humane methods of eliminating invaders where there is clear evidence that they are a threat to our native flora and fauna, even if it means not seeing these very cute Parakeets in Murcia in the future. However, to eliminate these birds isn’t the easiest task as several local authorities in Spain have found out. Various schemes have been trialled without much success and the only one I know that has worked, involved the use of baited traps designed to capture and then contain the birds in aviaries. At the moment I’m not aware of any plans to eliminate any non-native species from our region, so for the moment our exotic invaders can continue their lives alongside us.
This is good news for all the exotic birds in the region such as the very attractive Ruddy Shelduck (Tarro Canelo) which occurs naturally in far Eastern Europe and Asia. If you visit some of the wetlands and reservoirs surrounding Murcia City you may be lucky to spot them as these Shelducks (escaped from Terra Natura nature park/zoo) don’t stray too far from their original home!
In the City of Murcia there are also populations of the Mexican House Finch (Camachuelo Mexicano) which seem to find city life to their liking as they appear to be breeding quite happily. Another invader, this time from Africa, can be found in several places along the banks of the River Segura. It is the Common Waxbill and is a small Sparrow-sized bird with a bright red bill and eye stripe. It is a very popular and easy-to-keep cage bird and is clearly adept at escaping, or maybe people get bored with them and throw them out. Whatever the reason, they are obviously at home here along the river banks.
So far I have been commenting on escapees, but two very observant Spanish birders found another exotic avian visitor near the port of Cartagena. It generated a huge amount of interest in the birding community as we entered the New Year. The bird in question is a Brown-Necked Raven (Cuervo Desertícola) and it is the first time it has been seen in Murcia and only the second record for the Spanish mainland. It is very similar to the Common Raven (which occurs naturally in Murcia, but not generally by the coast), but is slightly smaller with a different beak shape and dark brown around the neck. It is an African species which lives in desert habitats and oases and can be found across all of North Africa as far south as Kenya, the Arabian Peninsula, The Middle East and into Iran.
What is it doing here? It could have arrived by hitching a lift on a boat, or maybe it has flown over by itself. There are even suggestions that it may not be the last, as foreign species seek to colonise new areas as a result of climate change and increasing desertification in South-East Spain. It wouldn’t be the first species to do it as the North African Trumpeter Finch (Camachuelo Trompetero) has already started to breed and colonise areas of Almeria and Murcia.
If the Raven stays long enough I might even do a short migration myself to Cartagena to see if I can find it. It would be a ‘lifer’ (a species seen for the first time) or as they say in Spanish; ‘un bimbo’!
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