• TAXONOMY:

    Kingdom: Animalia

    Phylum: Chordata

    Class: Aves

    Order: Psittaciformes

    Family: Psittacidae

    Subfamily: Arinae

    Genus: Myiopsitta

    Species: monachus

    Subspecies: calita, cotorra, luchsi, and monachus.

    Other Common Names: Quaker parrot, Quaker parakeet, gray breasted parakeet, gray headed parakeet, cliff parakeet.

  • NATIVE RANGE:

    Monk Parakeets are native to South America. They are found in Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil and Argentina (Stevenson and Anderson 1994, Juniper and Parr 1998).

  • DESCRIPTION:

    The Monk Parakeet is a small, sturdy, green-grey bird with an orange beak, a gray face and neck, a grey wrinkled upper chest, a green tail and back, green-blue wings, and gray limbs. These parakeets communicate through a constant dialogue of squawks and screeches, using this language as a shared signaling system that warns of approaching predators or other hazardous conditions. They build large nests from a wide variety of materials including tree branches and other plant materials. These nests last for an entire year and are built in tall trees including Eucalyptus and Palm, in both their native and introduced regions (Sick 1993, Avery and Greiner, 2002). In the United States they have often been known to often nest in and around tall structures including: trees, apartment buildings and electrical towers. These birds are especially popular in the pet trade and thought to be charismatic, colorful and intelligent.

  • ECOLOGICAL THREAT:

    There is little evidence of the Monk supplanting other species especially other vertebrates.

    Most observations of their interaction with other birds reveal a harmonious existence along with other North American species. However, unconfirmed reports within one study (Long 1981) claim increased competition between Monk Parakeets and other native bird species. If this evidence turns out to be true, it is possible that populations of Monks may in the future squeeze out native birds and in the process negatively impact biodiversity by upsetting the competitive balance necessary for survival of native species. In fact, competition between the Monks and native birds could exponentially increase the strain for native fauna survival; especially during the winter months when nutrients are scarce. This increased strain could lead to relocation or at worse extinction of native species. As a result, the Monk Parakeet may yet supplant other native species and have a significant ecological impact.

  • DISTRIBUTION IN THE USA (and elsewhere):

    There are established populations within Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Rhode Island, and Virginia (Hyman and Pruett-Jones 1995, Spreyer and Bucher 1998), and there are likely populations in Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, and South Carolina (Hyman and Pruett-Jones 1995, Spreyer and Bucher 1998). Florida and Texas have the largest populations of Monk Parakeets in the United States, (Birnbaum and Huebner, 2003). Recent information indicates that Florida’s Monk population may presently consist of more than 35,000 birds (Avery and Greiner, 2002). In 1996 it was noted that within Taunton, Massachusetts, “…Two pairs have nested to date, and these have done so for 3 to 4 years.” Simon Perkins Field Ornithologist MAS-1996.

  • HABITAT IN THE USA:

    In the United States, the Monk likes open spaces, including urban parks, golf courses, farms, gardens and orchards. The recent spread of the Monk may be due in part to the thinning of woodland areas, a decrease in predators and greater access to farming crops (Sick 1993).

  • BACKGROUND:

    Monk Parakeets were imported into the United States as pets from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. During and since that time, both weary pet owners and careless importers intentionally released these parrots into the wild. This allowed large populations of these birds to expand and become established in many states (Spreyer and Bucher, 1998). Established populations now exist in the urban areas of New York and Chicago. Common to these urban areas are a number of fruit and seed bearing ornamental plants, and /or human populations that often supplement the birds diets with commercial bird seed, providing a year-round supply of nutrients that would be otherwise be unavailable in cold northeastern landscapes (Spreyer and Bucher, 1998).

    The Monk Parakeet was introduced into North America some 30 years ago, but has yet to spread in massive waves or cause major damage to United States agriculture (Spreyer and Bucher, 1998). As early as the 1970s the United States Fish and Wildlife Service began eradication programs in order to get rid of Monk populations before they became uncontrollable (Avery and Greiner, 2002). Despite its invasive nature and potential negative impact on the U. S. the Monk Parakeet has been defended by many due to its endearing qualities (Hyman, J. and S. Pruett-Jones. 1995).

    Invasion pathways to new location: Approximately 65,000 Monk Parakeets were imported into the United States via the pet trade business between the years 1968 and 1972, (Spreyer & Bucher, 1998). In 1967 a large number of Monk Parakeets being imported into the U.S. escaped from damaged shipping crates at New York’s Kennedy International Airport, (Birnbaum and Huebner, 2003).

    Local dispersal methods: These birds have been intentionally released by pet owners who were tired of them and unintentionally released by careless importers. (Birnbaum and Huebner, 2003).

  • BIOLOGY & SPREAD:

    Monk Parakeets exhibit unique biological characteristics that promote their success as an invasive species. Unlike other parrots, they do not nest in existing cavities; but instead use their beak to build large durable nests. Monk nests can last throughout the year and help to protect the parrots from predators and cold winters. They are generally built in tall trees including the Eucalyptus and Palm in their native and introduced regions, (Sick 1993, Avery and Greiner, 2002). Monk Parakeets may also be found nesting in tall buildings and electrical towers.

    Another behavior that helps the Monk to survive in invasive enclaves is their tendency to form colonies. Although Monks form exclusive mating pairs, they may also be found helping one another build nests. This communal nest building makes for close social interactions. This in turn, allows the Monks to utilize colony distress calls. These colony calls warn community members of approaching prey or danger (Martella and Bucher 1990). All of these actions and characteristics indicate a strong kinship relationship. Monk Parakeets also typically have large clutch sizes averaging about 7 eggs and high hatching rates, which also likely contribute to their ability to establish populations in introduced areas (Peris and Aramburu 1995).

    Another example of the unique biological characteristics of this species is that communal colonies contain non-breeding mature adults. These non-breeding adults aid colony survival, since they will begin to breed should a large number of breeding Monks die. Another reason for the Monks success as an invasive species lies in their large clutch size and hatching rate. In fact, Monks have a typical clutch size of approximately 7 eggs and a hatching rate of greater than 50 %, (Peris and Aramburu 1995). Monks also exhibit preferences for nesting in tall trees and this is thought to allow them the opportunity to produce more offspring due to decreased predation. It has also been speculated that Monks build their nests in near electrical structures in introduced lands due to the warmth given off by transformers (Avery and Greiner, 2002). This is one possible reason why they are able to survive severely cold winters in North America.

    Monk Parakeets were imported into the United States as pets during the 1960’s through the 1980’s. In fact, approximately 65,000 Monk Parakeets were imported into the United States between the years 1968 and 1972, (Spreyer & Bucher, 1998). Since that time the populations of these birds have become established due to intentional and/or unintentional releases of captive individuals. As a matter of fact the Monks population has grown quickly and has allowed them to expand and become established in many states, (Spreyer and Bucher, 1998). Today Monk Parakeets have firmly established colonies within 17 states including large populations in Florida, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island and Texas, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). Florida and Texas are home to the largest numbers of these birds, (Birnbaum and Huebner, 2003).

  • MANAGEMENT OPTIONS:

    Management of the Monk Parakeet is a complex issue because these birds can be especially popular and thought to be charismatic, colorful and intelligent. However, it clear that Monks have become invasive in at least Florida and are the cause of significant ecological and economic damage.

    Visual Deterrence- A study in Florida recently evaluated the usefulness of Monk Parakeet and Owl effigies and low powered lasers, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). These visual deterrence measures were used following the removal of existing Monk nests. The results were mixed. For the most part, the birds were not overly concerned with a Monk Parakeet effigy stationed near their nesting areas, and on the same day of installation started rebuilding new nests. Upon installation of the Owl effigy, the Monks became highly agitated and initially avoided their original nesting areas. However, the birds became braver as time passed and within a few hours of installation re-entered their nests. Next, researchers decided to aim a low-powered red beam laser on selected parakeets. The results were again mixed. Most birds exposed to this form of deterrence immediately flew off and perched a far distance away. In addition, it should be noted that the use of the laser reduced the number of birds nesting in the evening. Unfortunately, the total number of birds during the day appeared unchanged. As a result, visual deterrence as a management option is limited.

    Trapping and Nest Removal- The most commonly used management option is trapping and nest removal. Shooting, snaring and nest burning also fall within this category. In one Florida study, trapping was used as a means of decreasing the local Monk Parakeet population, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). The techniques used involved trapping Monks by luring them into nests with food and mirrors. Although the results varied, the birds generally did not enter the traps. This undoubtedly casts doubts on its usefulness as a management option. Nest removal is an ongoing process in Florida and other states. Unfortunately, this solution is only a short-term answer, as the Monks will rebuild their nests. Within the Florida study, it was determined that a combination of trapping and nest removal were useful management options, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). In fact, it provided a longer-lasting solution than just nest removal alone. However, implementing trapping and nest removal is costly. The estimated cost to capture monk parakeets from a nest is $1,000, (Avery and Greiner, 2002).The cost to remove both a nest and the capture the birds living there is about $1,500 per nest, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). At these rates, the total costs estimates for trapping and nest removal run into the millions. As a result, trapping and nest removal can be effective management options when used together but remain costly and still rather limited.

    Habitat Alteration- Another potential management option is habitat alteration. It is known that Monk Parakeets prefer to nest on high electrical utility structures. Understanding and being able to change this nesting preference could possibly reduce or eliminate the nesting of Monks. In an attempt to study this idea, one Florida report, examined Monk nesting on utility structures in West Florida and South Florida, (Avery and Greiner 2002). The data suggests that since West Florida has a larger Monks population and less Monk nesting near utility structures that the there could have a different nesting preference, (Avery and Greiner 2002). In fact, the authors further speculated that if nesting preference is a learned behavior, then making electrical structures less suitable may accomplish reduced nesting, (Avery and Greiner 2002). This management option continues to be studied as a means of controlling the Monk Parakeet, (Avery, Greiner, 2002). As a result, habitat alteration may prove to be an effective management option; but even if effective; it does not fully address issues surrounding the Monks’ overall invasiveness.

    Biological Control- One potentially successful management option is biological control. It should be noted that poisoning also falls within this category. At the forefront of this approach to reducing the Monk Parakeet populations is the protozoan parasite Sarcocystis falcatula. This protozoan parasite is endemic to wherever opossums occur, including Florida. The opossum readily carries this parasite and excretes it within its feces. In one Florida report, the Monk was observed eating this fecal matter and then a short time later dying (Avery and Greiner, 2002). As a result, application of this parasite was studied and determined to cause morbidity and mortality in the Monk Parakeet, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). This study also states that the parasite is apparently lethal only to Monk Parakeets (and other Psittacinae birds) and does not harm other native bird species, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). The study further indicates that more investigation is necessary to in order to develop and evaluate an effective delivery system that will only affect Monk Parakeets rather than other Psittacinae birds, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). As a result, biological control may prove to be an effective management option; however, at present it has not been fully developed.

  • GENETIC STUDIES:

    Since Monk Parakeets will mate for life and are monogamous very little research, if any, has been conducted investigating the possible history of hybrids. However, Monks that are green with a grey face and chest have been mated with other Monks by human breeders to get blue and yellow mutations. Recent research includes two studies of the ecology and genetics of invasion of Monk Parakeets through a comparative analysis of native and introduced populations. These papers are as follows:

    1. Russello, M., M. Olson, V. Saranathan, and A. CACCONE. Characterization of polymorphic microsatellite loci for the invasive Monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus). In prep.

    2. Russello, M. and A. CACCONE. Molecular assessment of taxonomic and lineage diversity of the invasive Monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus). In prep.

  • ECONOMIC THREAT:

    The Monk Parakeet has been identified as an agricultural pest in its native lands. In fact, the Monk has been implicated in causing over one billion dollars in damage each year, (Spreyer & Bucher, 1998). In introduced regions such as Dade County, Florida, Monks were implicated in causing dramatic increases in agricultural damage, more than thirty times as much as fields that did not have Monk Parakeets present, (Tillman, Van Doom & Avery, 2000) In fact, in this same Dade County, Florida study, it was estimated that a revenue lost of $477 per agricultural acre could be attributed to the Monk Parakeet, (Tillman, Van Doom & Avery, 2000).

    The Monk presents problems for electrical utility companies. It is known that Monk Parakeets prefer to build their large nests in high places including electrical structures. These nests and the birds themselves can cause frequent power outages. In fact, as mentioned before the costs for repair of these repeated outages are estimated to be $566,000 annually or $551 per incident, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). Total costs associated with power failures attributed to the Monk Parakeet in 2001 were $585,000, or $570 per outage, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). Also since the Monk is very effective at rebuilding their nests, power companies must remove the nest and capture the bird. The cost to capture the Monks from a nest is $1,000, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). The cost to remove both a nest and the birds inhabiting it is estimated at $1,500 per nest, (Avery, Greiner and 2002). As a result, the total costs estimates for electrical problems associated with Monk Parakeet can run into the millions.

    Monk Parakeets have also been implicated as a carrier of Newcastle disease. This is a highly contagious bird disease affecting many domestic bird species including poultry. Undoubtedly, if such a disease infected poultry, it could influence the human food chain and cause considerable economic loss. As a result, the Monk Parakeet should be classified as a potentially high economic threat that could significant economic loss.

    In their native lands, the Monk Parakeet is considered a significant pest. In fact, Monks have been known to cause damage to farming crops, orchards and electrical power structures. Since they display generalist feeding habits, they are often considered agricultural pests. They have been known to graze on corn, rice, sunflowers, millet and ornamental fruit trees, (Sick 1993). This behavior has led to many, especially farmers to push for eradication programs to try to eliminate this bird. As a matter of fact, as recently as the 1970’s, cash rewards were offered in Argentina for individuals who captured and could display the dead carcasses of these birds. These eradication programs were largely unsuccessful because of the Monk’s continuous reproduction, (Peris and Aramburu 1995).

    Approximately 65,000 Monk Parakeets were imported into the United States via the pet trade business between the years 1968 and 1972, (Spreyer & Bucher, 1998). Since that time the populations of these birds have grown quickly and have allowed them to established large communities. This explosion in population is due in part to both intentional and unintentional releases, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). In fact, in 1967 upon import, a large amount of Monk Parakeets escaped from damaged shipping crates at New York’s Kennedy International Airport, (Birnbaum and Huebner, 2003). Many attribute this event as the epicenter of Monk’s invasion into the United States and North America. Today Monk Parakeets have firmly established colonies within 17 states including large populations in Florida, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island and Texas, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). In fact, Florida and Texas has the largest estimated numbers of these birds, (Birnbaum and Huebner, 2003). It is at the moment not classified as an agricultural pest throughout the United States. However, within certain states it is designated as an alien population that is established and expanding. Florida is the only place within the U. S. where the Monk has been designated an invasive species with potential to do significant ecological and agricultural harm. In fact, in Dade County, Florida it is considered an invasive species and within one study, it is estimated that a revenue loss of $477 per acre could be attributed to the Monk Parakeet, (Tillman, Van Doom & Avery, 2000). In Florida, as well as some other states, it has been known to graze on the fruits and berries of ornamental trees, sprouting plant buds and other agricultural crops. The Monks have also firmly established strong colonies in urban areas including New York City and Chicago. As a matter of fact, populations have been observed in Chicago’s Hyde Park and the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Given the Monk’s native range and food preferences, one may believe that it would have a difficult time surviving in the cold Northeastern U. S. However, the Monk defies this logic and is able to survive and thrive even in winter weather due to its sturdily built nests and the abundant commercial bird seed left out by humans.

    The Monk also presents problems for electrical utility companies. It is known that Monk Parakeets prefer to build their large, sturdy nests in high places including trees and electrical structures. Some of those reasons may include increased security from predators and the warmth generated by electrical transformers. In fact, Monks also often build their nests in electrical utility substations and related support structures that include power lines that distribute and transmit electricity. This behavior have been observed and documented in South America and in the United States, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). The Monks’ bulky nest causes damage to many electrical facilities which subsequently causes power outages. Florida, in particular, has had significant problems in this regard. Between months of January and May of 2001, Florida Power and Light Company had 498 outages, which affected over 21,000 residents, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). This was estimated as an annual rate of 1,027 outages, or 2.81 per day, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). Repair cost due to these repeated outages was estimated to be $566,000 annually or $551 per incident, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). In 2001 Monk Parakeet damage cost $585,000, or $570 per outage, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). Since the Monk is very good at rebuilding their nests, companies like Florida Power and Light must remove the nest and capture the bird. The estimated price to capture Monks from a nest is $1,000, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). The cost to remove both a nest and the birds living there is an estimated $1,500 per nest, (Avery and Greiner, 2002). As a result, the total costs for problems associated with Monk Parakeet could cause electrical companies to pay millions in damages.

  • LOCAL (MASSACHUSETTS) IMPACTS:

    Monk Parakeet invasions into Massachusetts are cause for some concern. In fact, Massachusetts shares some similar characteristics with other New England states that have already been invaded. Both Connecticut and Rhode Island share a similar climate as well as fauna and flora, and these states have classified the Monk Parakeet as established and expanding, (Hyman and Pruett-Jones 1995, Spreyer and Bucher 1998). This is indeed worrisome, especially given the agricultural and economic damage seen in other states, such as Florida. The agricultural and electrical infrastructure of Massachusetts could be threatened by the rapid expansion of this bird. In 1996, there were only “two nesting pairs” observed in the town of Taunton, Massachusetts (Simon Perkins Field Ornithologist MAS-1996). Later in March 2000, this species was added to the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee official state list. Since that time, ornithologists have speculated that Monks have been breeding due to the well-established populations observed in Bristol County, Massachusetts who maintains their county seat in Taunton, (Seventh Annual Report of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee by Marjorie Rines, Secretary Published in Bird Observer, April 2003). Given the invasion success the Monk has had in other New England states, coupled with their rapid reproduction and hardy survival skills, it is not hard to imagine invasions into other parts of Massachusetts sometime soon. Under these circumstances, the Commonwealth would benefit from taking a proactive stance by closely monitoring the situation and collecting chronological and biological data in order to enhance the Monk population model and facilitate an appropriate management strategy. If appropriate, control measures such as nest and bird removal should be implemented while the population is still manageable.

  • CONTACTS:

    I suggest contacting the Avian Welfare Coalition (AWC). This organization is committed to taking in Monk Parakeets that owners no longer want and caring for them.

    If you see the Monk Parakeet outside its native range, please notify someone in state or local government, someone from a professional ornithological organization and/or contact the link above.

  • AUTHOR: John Menkens
  • PHOTOGRAPHS: (need to add - checking Flickr)
  • REFERENCES:

    Avery Michael L and Greiner, Ellis C., 2002. Monk Parakeet Management at Electric Utility Facilities in South Florida. Wildlife Damage Management, Center for USDA National Wildlife Research Center Staff Publications. Pp. 140-145.

    Birnbaum, S. and Huebner, E. 2003. Monk Parakeets: A Texas Perspective. Texas Parks and Wildlife Newsletter Vol. 10 pp. 14-15.

    Hyman, J. and S. Pruett-Jones. 1995. Natural history of the Monk Parakeet in Hyde Park, Chicago. Wilson Bulletin 107(3):510-517.

    Juniper, T. and M. Parr. 1998. Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. pp. 584.

    Long, J. L. 1981. Introduced Birds of the World. Universe Books, New York, NY. (pages 254-256).

    Martella, M. B. and E. H. Bucher. 1990. Vocalizations of the Monk Parakeet. Bird Behavior 8(2):101-110.

    Peris, S. J. and R. M. Aramburu. 1995. Reproductive phenology and breeding success of the monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus monachus) in Argentina. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment 30(2)115-119.

    Sick, H. 1993. Birds in Brazil: A Natural History. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. pp.521.

    Stevenson, H. M. and B. H. Anderson. 1994. Birdlife of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, FL. (pp. 338-339).

    Spreyer, M. F. and E. H. Bucher. 1998. Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus). Birds of North America. 322:1-24.

    Tillman, E., Van Doom, Annamaria and Avery, Michael L. 2000. Bird damage to tropical fruit in south Florida. The Ninth Wildlife Damage Management Conference Proceedings. Edited by Margaret C. Brittingham, Jonathan Kays and Rebecka McPeake. Oct 5-8, 2000 State College, PA USA (pp. 45-59).