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Wild Monk Parakeets Information

Over thirty years ago when Monk Parakeets/Quakers were first observed there were concerns that they would drive out native birds and quickly spread all over the country wracking havoc with farmers crops. Well, thirty years later that threat has never materialized. Connecticut’s population has only grown to about 1000 birds in these thirty years. No where near the rate they were predicting or that the starling population grew and spread for example. Non native is not always synonymous with invasive. It definitely is not in this case.

President Clinton's Executive Order 13112 defines invasive species as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” Threats some thought they posed thirty years ago have not been founded. These birds do not drive out or interfere with other species "native" or otherwise. They co habitat with other birds and animals.  Their nests are often shared with other bird species such as starlings, finches, osprey and also here in CT, documented by a CT Audubon Society article,  the great horned owl. Squirrels also are found using Quaker nests.

Monk Parakeets are basically sedentary birds that don't venture further than perhaps 500 feet from their original nest.  The cold climate in our areas of Connecticut and New Jersey is one factor keeping the numbers stable. Another is food supply particularly in the winter months when they are dependent on outdoor bird feeders. A third is their own form of managing the size of the flock. If they consider it too large the young females are passed over for breeding that season. Being a “family” orientated species these young females help feed the youngest.

The threat to agriculture never materialized either and most likely never would as they are urban dwellers. In Connecticut the monks are found in Bridgeport, Stratford, Stamford, Milford and West Haven for example.

 from Mark Spreyer, 1998: 
“I am the senior author of the Life History of the Monk Parakeet published in 1998 in the Birds of North America series (Vol. 9 No. 322). (This series is supported in part by the American Ornithologists’ Union, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and the Academy of Natural Sciences.) When reading early scientific accounts of the Monk Parakeet’s arrival in the United States, it was clear that the species was rarely treated objectively. The anti-parakeet feelings stemmed from fears that the Monk, a native of South America, would spread across the country like Carp, Kudzu, and other invasive, non-native species. However, prudent scientific caution often crossed the line into “guilty until proven innocent.” For example, the following came from a piece about the parakeets that appeared in a 1973 Journal of Agriculture of University of Puerto Rico, ‘The phrase ‘further research is needed’ must never become a euphemism for failure to act.’” Interestingly, those early accounts also contained the reasons why the Monk Parakeet has not spread across the continent during the past 30 years, as originally feared. Noted ornithologist John Bull, who chronicled the parakeet’s arrival in New York during the early 1970’s, stated, correctly, that the Monk was either “strictly” or “virtually sedentary. In fact, with the knowledge at hand then, there was very little reason to expect such a spread. The passage of time has confirmed John Bull’s sedentary characterization of the species. You see, because of the successful invasions of a few exotic species, such as Starlings, House Sparrows, and Pigeons, some biologists often think that ALL non-native species, such as the Monk Parakeet, are chomping at the bit to invade and exploit North America. More often than not, exotics that are accidentally released on the continent disappear quickly and without notice. Also, many of these early “success” stories – unlike the Monk Parakeet, which was introduced for a captive existence – weren’t accidentally released, but were deliberately introduced into the North American ecosystem. Starlings, for instance, had been unsuccessfully released in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, and Quebec before they were finally, and successfully, introduced in New York in 1890. By 1980, according to one authority, there had been, roughly, 120 species of birds released in the United States. This list includes transplants and the reintroduction of rare natives, such as the Peregrine Falcon. Of these, about a third took hold, most of these only to be locally established. Very few became a widespread nuisance. Unfortunately, some of today’s ornithologists continue to ignore the facts and maintain that the parakeet is a looming threat, having still to prove its innocence. From his 1989 book, The Birds of Illinois, H. David Bohlen writes of the Monk Parakeet,”…Their maliciousness toward people has yet to be demonstrated in the Northern Hemisphere …Maliciousness? Come again? At the risk of appearing vain, I’ll close with my own words from the introduction to the Birds of North America life history for the Monk Parakeet. Early on, it was feared that this parakeet would thrive in its new home, ravaging crops as its range expanded. Over the years, this threat has not materialized and, in many areas, efforts to retrieve wild parakeets have been discontinued. It is worth noting that, in Argentina, agricultural losses attributed to the Monk Parakeet have never been accurately measured.”

From Chicago wilderness magazine, Winter 2003 
Michael Avery, a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), asserts that they pose no threat. “There is no documentation of their causing damage to cereal crops in the U.S., and no indication that they are displacing other birds. They are not cavity nesters, like starlings, which displace woodpeckers. Overall, there seems to be no competition for food or nest space.” 

Mark Spreyer, director of the Stillman Nature Center in Barrington and an avid student of the monk parakeet, notes that monk populations tend to control themselves because only a certain number of birds breed each year. The proportion of breeding birds may vary with environmental conditions, he says.

From the University of Chicago Magazine
Dr. Steven Pruett-Jones, associate professor in ecology & evolution stated, 
“I previously thought the monk parakeets should be controlled because an introduced species is almost always bad for its new environment,” Pruett-Jones says. “But now I believe they are sufficiently benign in the habitats where they now occur. They’re not a pest, and they don’t compete with a native species.”

My own studies show that Monks live, sleep, eat, and nest with several different species, including Rock Doves, Starlings, Sparrows, Grackles, and Crows. I have pictures from over the last ten years showing their ability to get along with indigenous birds. We have yet to note any indication that they compete for display aggression toward one another. Information regarding pole fires was supplied by the Edgewater Fire Department. There were two fires in thirty years. One was caused by lightning, and the other by a lit cigarette. In both cases, the birds perished.

Mark Spreyer, a biologist who directs the Stillman Nature Center in Illinois and who authored the section on monks for the book, Birds of North America, has been watching a flock in Chicago's Southside for 10 years. He describes them as "especially interesting." "They chose the right place to put up a colony," he says. "Everyone there really likes them. It's a really diverse neighborhood and I think there's a kind of multiculturalism connection between the people and the birds. They fascinate people. As an educator it gives me a great opportunity to talk to an urban audience. People want to know all about them. Where are they from? How do they work? What is the weather like where they came from? When you see a parrot flying around wild on a March day in Chicago with the snow blowing off Lake Michigan, you've got questions."

Spreyer thinks monks may be filling the niche left by the Carolina parakeet, the range of which once extended across the southeastern U.S. and which may also have been seen as far west as Illinois. Certainly, monks are the most adaptable of the naturalized parrots in the U.S., and the most successful.

There are two reasons for this, according to Florida monk expert Pranty: First, unlike every other parrot in the world, monks are not dependent on nest cavities for breeding. They build their own. Second: Perhaps because of these nests, in which they sleep year-round, monks are able to survive colder temperatures than most parrots.

Because all the other naturalized parrots are cavity nesters and cavities are scarce, it is believed that only about 20 percent of them nest and breed every year, Pranty says. Monks, on the other hand, can build their massive, multi-chambered twig-and-stick edifices in trees, telephone towers, fire escapes, stadium lights and all manner of natural and man-made structures. They are not obliged to depend on already existing nests.

Monk nests are composed of multiple chambers, each occupied by a nesting pair. When an entire colony roosts together in such a nest, the temperature stays significantly warmer than the air outside. This is how monks are thought to survive in Illinois, Connecticut and other inhospitably cold states where they are found in significant numbers.

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