The area of this map coloured red has the same population as the area coloured blue

One of these things is, well, quite like the other, actually. Image: Ibisdigitalmedia.

Well, this is kind of crazy. Only 5 per cent of the world's population lives in the regions of this map shaded blue. Another 5 per cent lives in the area shaded red. Yoinks.

The image appeared on the MapPorn section of Reddit earlier this week, the only post made by an account called “IbisDigitalMedia”, and swiftly started racking up the up votes. It's not entirely clear who or what Ibis is – it might be a Dallas video production firm specialising in wedding videos, as unlikely as that seems – but since they’re clearly a corporate seeking viral marketing, we figured they wouldn't mind a reputable urbanism website reposting their map with a bit of commentary attached.

So, this is what we’re looking at here. The red area includes Bangladesh (pop: 156m), and the Indian states of Bihar (pop: 104m) and West Bengal (pop: 91m). It also includes two megacities: Kolkata in West Bengal (15m), and the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka (13m).

In all, that’s a combined population of about 351m people in roughly 330,000 km2, giving a population density of 1062 people per km2. By way of comparison, the most densely populated country in Europe is the Netherlands. The density there is less than 500 people per km2.


The blue area includes – this list is not exhaustive, but still, take a deep breath before we get into it – Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, huge swathes of northern and Asian Russia, Mongolia, most of the Amazon basin, Patagonia, large swathes of Africa and the Arabic peninsula, the US states of New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and both Dakotas, and pretty much the entire Australasian continent.

We haven’t done the maths on this – I mean, how? – but we’re taking it on trust that this is roughly 350m people, too. There are just over 7bn people in the world.

These less populated areas are largely, but not exclusively, the bits that aren’t all that fit for human habitation: deserts, steppes, tundra, rainforest. We're pretty sure it doesn't include a single megacity: the closest candidates appear to be Luanda, the capital of Angola (6.5m) and Toronto (6.0m).

The map is a bit of a cheat. We're assuming that whoever made the map calculated how many people 5 per cent of the global population is, and then started working their way down a list of big areas with low population density until they hit their magic number. It’s a slightly artificial way of doing things, and leads to odd things like the exclusion of the Nile valley and the thin sliver of South America on its populated Pacific Coast. 

It reminds us of this map, from another Redditor, valeriepieris, which is in its way more striking because it doesn't cherry pick what it shows in this way:

Anyway. The world’s population is really unevenly distributed, that’s the point here. It’s the old 53 per cent of the world’s population live on 3 per cent of its surface thing at work, once again.

One last thought. That red area is at enormous risk from sea level rises. If climate change has the effect that scientific consensus imagines it will, where are those 350m people going to go?

Why not like us on Facebook? Go on, we're delightful.

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook