Le Dernier Mot: Birds of a Feather

Le Dernier Mot: Birds of a Feather

…flock together – and are loyal to a fault, says Kristin Espinasse

There is never a dull moment in our three-generational nid here in La Ciotat. Recently, my mom called out, “Five green parrots!”, sending us flying down the stairs. Here she was, the doyenne of our family, standing enraptured beside our palm tree – not a bird in sight. Just when I thought Mom was seeing things, a whoosh of green flew over us landing in the majestic pin parasol across the street.

We stared in amazement – not least my husband, equipped with binoculars. How did these exotic birds end up in the Land of the Mistral? Were they escapees from a neighbouring villa? Fugitives from the zoo in Toulon? In the days that followed, I quizzed everyone from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who regularly ring our doorbell to the meter maids (trained to spot freeloaders). Thanks to these accidental informants, I learned a lot about la perruche à collier (Psittacula krameri), including a few things we outsiders have common…


We both migrated to France from hot climates (the Sonoran Desert of America for me and the tropical forests of Africa for them) and were both set loose at Roissy Airport in the early 1990s – I on my way to Lille, and the ‘red beaks’ on their way to a Parisian pet store – where we did not, as the French say, passé inaperçu.

The wayward parakeets, in addition to their becs rouges, are distinguished by their electric green feathers and bruyante manner.

To camouflage their deafening chattering they congregate above the noisy autoroute in Aubagne. As for me, it was my white tennis shoes and foreign accent that screamed ‘étrangère’. I’ve ditched the white tennis shoes – even if they are back in style now in France – and instead of the motorway, I try to mix in with loud groups of French diners.

Parrot hiding in the trees. Photo: Kristin Espinasse


But there is one trait we share that came as a surprise even to me: we migrators tend to stick together.

“It is true,” I admitted to my husband while out birdwatching (hopefully a new sport? Something we could do together as a couple?).

“All of my girlfriends are anglophone. I don’t seem have any French copines!” I lamented.

Jean-Marc pushed aside his binoculars in time to flash a devilish grin and a naughty riposte: “Moi, oui!” Which brings us to another thing I guess I have in common with a cackling parrot: we put up with our silly mates for a lifetime!


UN NID = nest
UN/UNE DOYEN(NE) = elder/patriarch/matriarch
UN PIN PARASOL = umbrella pine
UNE PERRUCHE À COLLIER = rose-ringed parakeet
PASSER INAPERÇU = go unnoticed
UN BEC = beak
BRUYANT(E) = loud/noisy
UNE AUTOROUTE = motorway/freeway
UNE RIPOSTE = retort

From France Today magazine

Read more of Kristin’s popular columns here:
Le Dernier Mot: Affair of the Heart
Le Dernier Mot: Inside Job
Le Dernier Mot: Naked Ambition
Le Dernier Mot: That Which We Call a Rose…
Le Dernier Mot: France Isn’t All That Bad!
Le Dernier Mot: A Passage to Corsica
Le Dernier Mot: Desperately Seeking… Dessert
Le Dernier Mot: Sirène Again!
Le Dernier Mot: Milking the Breakfast Bar
Le Dernier Mot: Saperlipopette
Le Dernier Mot: Uninvited Guêpes
Le Dernier Mot: An Exception to Every Rule

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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  • Michael James
    2019-08-29 03:57:06
    Michael James
    Like so many of the noisier, trashier expats around the Med, they might be Londoners seeking better climes and respite from Brexit insanity! At this 50th anniversary of Woodstock it is intriguing to think they might even be descendants of Jimi Hendriks! [[wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_parakeets_in_Great_Britain]] "Feral parakeets in Great Britain are feral parakeets that are an introduced species into Great Britain. The population consists of rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri), a non-migratory species of bird that is native to Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. The origins of these birds are subject to speculation, but they are generally thought to have bred from birds that escaped from captivity. ... • a pair were released by Jimi Hendrix in Carnaby Street, London, in the 1960s." In fact they are very successful invaders being found in many big cities worldwide, well outside their places of origin. Such as Tokyo: [[theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/jul/06/yoshinori-mizutani-parakeets-tokyo-in-pictures]] Seeing them in the south of France, perhaps feasting on mimosa*, would make an Australian homesick. Big flocks are common in all the cities in Australia, though they tend to be Rainbow parakeets (or lorikeet; Trichoglossus moluccanus) where they are natives rather than foreign invaders. But we have more than our fair share of noisy, trashy Londoners of the more usual two-legged species too. *unlikely as they feed on seeds not nectar.


  • Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets)
    2019-08-28 18:27:43
    Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets)
    When in St. Remy earlier this month, we saw a group of people looking up in a tree outside the coffee shop where we'd had breakfast and asked what they were looking at - yes, one of your flashy parrots made it all the way up to St. Remy!


    • Kristin
      2019-08-28 19:56:52
      Hi Anne! Thanks for sharing about the bird sighting. It either made it up from Marseilles...or down from Paris