Study Reveals Jimi Hendrix Not Responsible for Britain's Parakeets

A long-lived urban legend about the origins of feral parakeets in the British Isles has finally been disproven by new research from Goldsmiths and Queen Mary universities.

The BBC reported that the rose-ringed parakeets, which are native to Africa and the Indian subcontinent, were most likely released into the wild in the early 1930s when a public health panic about psittacosis--a potentially fatal infection passed from the birds to humans--swept the country.

For many years, many believed that the non-native birds were introduced to the English ecosystem by legendary American rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who allegedly released a mating pair of parakeets named Adam and Eve into London's swinging Carnaby Street in 1968.

Two parakeets on a tree branch
Two parakeets on a tree branch Khmel / Getty Images

Another popular rumor about the prevalence of parakeets in the U.K. stems from the filming of 1951 adventure film The African Queen. Portions of that movie were lensed at Isleworth Studios in west London, and an urban legend held that the crew released the birds from the set at their wrap party.

"Slightly less glamorously, another theory claims that birds escaped from an aviary at Syon Park when it was damaged by debris falling from an aircraft in the 1970s or from a wide range of unspecified aviaries damaged during the 'great storm' of 1987," said the study.

The research study used spatial analysis to examine the veracity of those claims, plotting bird sightings on a map of the city over time. They discovered that neither Carnaby Street or Isleworth had a notably high concentration of parakeets spotted, revealing no verifiable introduction site there.

Instead, the study determined that the birds were probably introduced into the wild population from numerous small releases. A British newspaper report in 1932 about parakeets being sighted coincided with the publication of a number of stories about psittacosis. Another instance of a "parrot flu" scare in 1952, said the study, may have influenced people to release their pets.

The researchers expanded the timeline of their investigation to the 19th century, using the British Newspaper Archive to find mentions of the bright green birds. The study found that wild parakeets had been sighted in the wild as far back as 1855, well before Hendrix brought his musical act to the British Isles.

Rose-ringed parakeets have become a successful invasive species in 34 countries across five continents, said the study. According to the National Audubon Society's website, there have been wild flocks of them around parts of California and Florida.