Naturalized Parrots in the U.S.
Flocks of free-flying non-native parrots – some imperiled in their natural habitats due to habitat loss and poaching for the pet trade- have been documented in many areas of the U.S. There are 11 different species of naturalized parrots found in California alone, and populations of Peach-faced Lovebirds, budgerigars, as well as conures, amazons, and macaws are also thriving in Florida, New York, Texas, and Arizona.
Parrots are not migratory birds. Theories as to how these birds acclimated into North American vary. But it is generally thought that these birds either escaped or were set free by owners and successfully adapted into the environment.
One of the most abundant free-living parrot species in the United States is the gray-breasted parrot, Myiopsitta monachus, more commonly known as the Monk or Quaker parakeet. Native to South America, they can be found in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.
Thousands of Quaker parakeets were imported into the United States from Brazil and Argentina during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, and thousands more are produced each year at breeding facilities to satisfy consumer demand for inexpensive small parrots. Ornery and resourceful, these birds now nest in at least 11 states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, Florida and Illinois.
Monk Parrots: Unique, Hearty & Resourceful Birds!
Quaker parakeets are the only parrots that build complex nest structures from sticks and other materials, and live in them year round. Other parrots build nests, but only in a pre-existing cavity in a tree or some other location, and only use them during breeding season.
This unique housing system means that they don’t typically come into conflict or competition with other birds for nesting sites. However, this has led to another problem: In many areas of the country, Quaker parrots favor utility poles and power transformers for nest building, which leads to concerns from power companies that these large communal nests increase the risk of fire and power outages.
While Quaker nests may cause some power outages, it can be difficult to estimate the frequency of such problems attributed to the nests. Outages are more often the result of power disruptions and transformer failures caused by simple equipment failure, accidents, and severe weather. Nonetheless, concerns about the hazards related to Quaker nesting site have led to misguided and inhumane lethal control efforts.
The Need for Protections
In general, free-living, non-native species, including naturalized parrots, are not afforded protection by state or federal wildlife laws. They also lack the protection afforded to the same species held in private ownership, thereby considered personal “property” under the law. This lack of protection opens the door to ‘poaching’ by unscrupulous people, and to inhumane displacement, and often gruesome lethal control methods involving toxic poisons or shooting.
Such harmful efforts prove to be public relations nightmares for power companies, as these feisty, animated little birds have won many fans and defenders in the neighborhoods in which they live.
As it turns out lethal control is not only publically unattractive, it’s also ineffective in the long term, leading many power companies to look to humane non-lethal solutions.
Trapping naturalized bird species and placing them into captive settings or into the pet trade also fails to provide a long-term solution. It also poses ethical and animal-welfare concerns as well as increasing the burden on shelters and avian rescue organizations. We strongly discourage this practice.
AWC does not condone the introduction, intentional or not, of exotic species into the U.S.
However, we continue to advocate for humane non-lethal approaches to dealing with all wildlife. It is important to remember that in dealing with conflicts involving naturalized or non-native wildlife species, those irresponsible human actions are usually the origin of the problem. We must ensure that our policies toward such animals are not equally irresponsible. Birds, whether native or not, should not pay the price for our mistakes.
The topic of free-living non-native birds in the U.S. continues to spark discussion and often, controversy. For some interesting perspectives on naturalized parrots in the U.S., read these articles:
The Wild Parrots of America
By Charles Bergman, BirdWatching Magazine