| Where screeching, scarlet macaws enjoy raucous celebrity status|
|From the moment the nerve-jangling screeches – on a par with the sound of glass stoppers turning in necks of bottles – were unleashed from the rooftops, it was obvious which of the shoppers in the street were local residents and which were first-time visitors. The former went about their business without an upward glance; the latter stopped in their tracks, stared upwards, then reached for their cameras.|
Kirkby Stephen's small flock of scarlet macaws has been a raucous feature of the town ever since the late John Strutt began to provide a refuge for unwanted parrots on his farm at nearby Eden Place. As a dedicated animal lover and conservationist, Strutt managed his 900 acres using low-intensity farming methods for the benefit of birds, butterflies and wild flowers, and also indulged his passion for exotic birds, which he could never bear to see confined to an aviary.
Our first encounter with his feral macaws was on a footpath near his farm, where a few feathers left under the trees by a bird preening left us puzzling over who had been the owner of such exotic plumage that bore all the primary colours from a child's paintbox. For the most part, the macaws stay close to home in the Eden valley, but they are regular visitors to Kirkby Stephen's rooftops, where they have become local celebrities. There will be some, I suppose, who will point to the proliferation of troublesome, feral, ring-necked parakeets in London and frown on the deliberate introduction of any non-native species, but this population of exotic birds has remained small, stable and local.
As we crossed the road to the bakery, a pair peered down at us from the parapet above, Technicolor adornments to grey roofs on a grey day. Then they flew low and fast above cars and lorries along Market Street, trailing long tail plumes and ear-piercing screeches – a vision of Amazonia on a bitterly cold Cumbrian afternoon.