|Wild Myiopsitta monachus monachus in Argentina|
2–4, see text
Psittacus monachus Boddaert, 1783
The monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus), also known as the quaker parrot, is a small, bright-green parrot with a greyish breast and greenish-yellow abdomen. In most taxonomies, it is classified as the only member of the genus Myiopsitta. It originates from the temperate to subtropical areas of Argentina and the surrounding countries in South America. Self-sustaining feral populations occur in many places, mainly in North America and Europe.
The nominate subspecies of this parakeet is 29 cm (11 in) long on average, with a 48 cm (19 in) wingspan, and weighs 100 g (3.5 oz). Females tend to be 10–20% smaller, but can only be reliably sexed by DNA or feather testing. It has bright-green upperparts. The forehead and breast are pale gray with darker scalloping and the rest of the underparts are very light-green to yellow. The remiges are dark blue, and the tail is long and tapering. The bill is orange. The call is a loud and throaty chape(-yee) or quak quaki quak-wi quarr, and screeches skveet.
Domestic breeds in colors other than the natural plumage have been produced. These include birds with white, blue, and yellow in place of green. As such coloration provides less camouflage, feral birds are usually of wild-type coloration.
Systematics and taxonomy
Myiopsitta monachus is the only widely accepted member of the genus Myiopsitta. However, it seems that the cliff parakeet subspecies (see below) may eventually be recognized as a species again, as it has been on-again-off-again since it was first described in 1868. It is now included with the monk parakeet because too little up-to-date research exists on which an authoritative taxonomic decision could be based. The American Ornithologists' Union, for example, has deferred recognizing the cliff parakeet as distinct "because of insufficient published data".
- M. m. monachus (Boddaert, 1783) – Argentina from southeastern Santiago del Estero Province throughout the Río Salado and lower Paraná basins to Buenos Aires Province and Uruguay
- The largest subspecies
- M. m. calita (Boddaert, 1783) – Andean foothills up to 1,000 m ASL, from southeastern Bolivia (Santa Cruz and Tarija departments) to Paraguay and northwestern Argentina, then west of the range of monachus, extending into the lowlands again in Río Negro and possibly Chubut provinces.
- Smaller than monachus, wings more prominently blue, gray of head darker.
- M. m. cotorra (Finsch, 1868) – southwestern Brazil (Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, possibly Rio Grande do Sul) throughout the Río Paraguay and middle Paraná basins as well as the Gran Chaco.
- Essentially identical to calita but reported as less yellow below and brighter overall.
- Cliff parakeet, M. (monachus) luchsi (Boddaert, 1783) – Andean valleys of central Bolivia between 1,000/1,300 and 3,000 m ASL, roughly from southeastern La Paz to northern Chuquisaca departments. Essentially the same range as the red-fronted macaw.
- Smaller, with clearer plumage pattern: no scalloping on breast, underparts brighter yellow, underwing lighter. Base of maxilla dark.
The first three subspecies' ranges meet in the general area of Paraguay, and there they are insufficiently delimited. The distinctness and delimitation of M. m. calita and M. m. cotorra especially require further study. Regarding the cliff parakeet, its altitudinal range apparently does not overlap with the other two, and that it is thus entirely, but just barely, allopatric.
Like the other neotropical parrots, the monk parakeet is usually placed in the tribe Arini, which might warrant elevation to subfamily rank as the Arinae. M. monachus belongs to the long-tailed clade of these – macaws and conures, essentially, which would retain the name Arini/Arinae if this polyphyletic group were split.
Ecology and behaviour
The monk parakeet is globally very common, and even the rather localized cliff parakeet is generally common. In Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, monk parakeets are regarded as major agricultural pests (as noted by Charles Darwin, among others). Their population explosion in South American rural areas seems to be associated with the expansion of eucalyptus forestry for paper pulp production, which offers the bird the opportunity to build protected nests in artificial forests where ecological competition from other species is limited. The cliff parakeet occasionally plunders maize fields, but it is apparently not considered a major pest as no serious persecution is done.
The monk parakeet is the only parrot that builds a stick nest, in a tree or on a man-made structure, rather than using a hole in a tree. This gregarious species often breeds colonially, building a single large nest with separate entrances for each pair. In the wild, the colonies can become quite large, with pairs occupying separate "apartments" in nests that can reach the size of a small automobile. These nests can attract many other tenants including birds of prey such as the spot-winged falconet (Spiziapteryx circumcincta), ducks such as the yellow-billed teal (Anas flavirostris), and even mammals. Their five to 12 white eggs hatch in about 24 days.
The cliff parakeet, as its name implies, nests in cliff crevices. This subspecies rarely builds communal nests, but individual pairs still prefer to nest in close association.
Unusually for a parrot, monk parakeet pairs occasionally have helper individuals, often a grown offspring, which assist with feeding the young (see kin selection).
The lifespan of monk parakeets has been given as 15–20 years or as much as 25–30 years; the former might refer to average lifespans in captivity and/or in the wild, while the latter is in the range of maximum lifespans recorded for parakeets.
Monk parakeets are highly intelligent, social birds. Those kept as pets routinely develop vocabularies of scores of words and phrases. Due to this early speaking ability, it is overtaking the cockatiel as the favorite bird to teach to talk. Another asset is that this bird has a much more reasonable lifespan and price than African grey parrots or the yellow-naped amazon.
Because of monk parakeets' listing as an agricultural pest, California, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Western Australia outlaw sale and ownership. In Connecticut, one can own a monk parakeet, but cannot sell or breed them. In New York and Virginia, it is possible to own a monk parakeet with banding and registration. In Ohio, owning a one is legal if the bird's wings are clipped or it is incapable of free flight.
As an introduced species
Self-sustaining feral populations have been recorded in several U.S. states and various regions of Europe (namely Spain, Portugal, Azores, Madeira, Balearic Islands, Gibraltar, France, Corsica, Malta, Cyprus, Sardinia, Italy, Channel Islands, Great Britain, Ireland and Belgium), as well as in British Columbia, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Bermuda, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Easter Island, Puerto Rico, South Korea, and Japan. As it is an open woodlands species, it adapts readily to urban areas.
In areas where they have been introduced, some fear they will harm crops and native species. Evidence of harm caused by feral colonies is disputed, and many people oppose killing this charismatic bird. However, local bans and eradication programs exist in some areas of the U.S. Outside the U.S., introduced populations do not appear to raise similar controversy, presumably because of smaller numbers of birds, or because their settlement in urban areas does not pose a threat to agricultural production. The U.K. appears to have changed its view on its feral populations and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is planning to remove monk parakeets from the wild, as it believes that they threaten local wildlife and crops.
Feral populations are often descended from very small founder populations. Being as social and intelligent as they are, monk parakeets develop some cultural traditions, namely vocal dialects that differ between groups. In populations descended from a large number of birds, a range of "dialects" will exist. If the founder population is small however, a process similar to genetic drift may occur if prominent founders vocalize in an unusual "dialect", with this particular way of vocalizing becoming established in the resulting feral colony. For example, no fewer than three different "dialects" occur among the feral monk parrots of the Milford, Connecticut, metropolitan area.
The species has in recent years expanded its range in Brazil, where a self-sustaining population occurs in the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro. Since this population occurs far from the bird's original range in Brazil – it was only found in the far south and southwest – it is most probably a consequence of escapees from the pet trade. In Rio de Janeiro, the bird can be easily seen at the Aterro do Flamengo gardens – where it nests on palm trees and feeds on their fruit; the Rio birds seem to favor nesting amid the leaves of coconut palm trees, as well as in the vicinity of the neighboring domestic flight terminal, the Santos Dumont Airport and in the gardens of Quinta da Boa Vista, where communal nests roughly one meter in diameter have been seem. In Santa Catarina State, probable escapees have been reported on occasion for quite some time, and a feral population seems to have established itself in Florianópolis early in the first decade of the 21st century when birds were observed feeding right next to the highway in the Rio Vermelho-Vargem Grande area.
The monk parakeet was first recorded in Mexico City in 1999. Records exist from seven other locations, including the cities of Puebla, Morelia, Celaya, Oaxaca, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Hermosillo, and Mexicali, and the mouth of the Loreto River in Baja California Sur.
Nesting populations are known in Mexico City and Oaxaca. A small but growing population has also been established in the southern part of the city of Puebla, Puebla, in the surroundings of the city's aviary, which they are known to visit frequently, and where they can often be seen clinging to the outer side of its mesh walls. No studies have been made to assess the impact they might have on the relict populations of green parakeet that live in the same area and other well-wooded zones of the city.
Following the ban on the trade of native parrot species, local traditional bird sellers have now switched to the monk parakeet as their staple parrot, and that might have increased the number of escapees. Sometimes, the head and breast feathers of monk parakeets are dyed yellow to deceive uninformed buyers, mimicking the endangered yellow-headed amazon. The presence of this species in seven geographically distant and independent locations in Mexico indicates that the source of these individuals is most likely the pet trade.
Considerable numbers of monk parakeets were imported to the United States in the late 1960s as pets. Many escaped or were intentionally released, and populations were allowed to proliferate. By the early 1970s, M. monachus was established in seven states, and by 1995, it had spread to eight more. About 100,000 are now thought to be in Florida alone.
As one of the few temperate-zone parrots, the monk parakeet is more able than most to survive cold climates, and colonies exist as far north as New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Louisville, Edgewater, New Jersey, coastal Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and southwestern Washington. This hardiness makes this species second only to the rose-ringed parakeet amongst parrots as a successful introduced species.
In 2012, a pair of monk parakeets attempted nesting in Watervliet, New York (about 150 miles north of New York City, near Albany, New York). Prior to egg-laying, one bird was captured and the nest eventually removed due to concerns that the nest built adjacent to an electrical transformer created a fire hazard.
In addition, they have also found a home in Brooklyn, New York, after an accidental release decades ago of what appears to have been black-market birds within Green-Wood Cemetery. The grounds crew initially tried to destroy the unsightly nests at the entrance gate, but no longer do so because the presence of the parrots has reduced the number of pigeons nesting within it. The management's decision was based on a comparative chemical analysis of pigeon feces (which destroy brownstone structures) and monk parakeet feces (which have no ill effect). Oddly then, the monk parakeets are in effect preserving this historic structure. Brooklyn College has a monk parakeet as an "unofficial" mascot in reference to the colony of the species that lives in its campus grounds. It is featured on the masthead of the student magazine. They have also made their homes in the lamp posts in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Most of these monk parakeet populations can be traced to shipments of captured birds from Argentina.
In Chicago, the origin of the monk parakeets is unknown, but they may be escaped birds from O'Hare airport or unwanted pets. The species first appeared in the 1960s and is continuing to thrive despite unusual bad winters that have recently occurred in the 1980s and in 2014. The birds are welcomed in the city especially by bird watchers and were involved in a 2012 ornithological study. The population is estimated to be at 1,000 birds, with healthy colonies located in several of the city's parks.
Monk parakeets can be seen in Madrid, Barcelona, Cadiz, Seville, Torremolinos, Málaga, Valencia, Tarragona, Roquetas de Mar (Andalusia), Zaragoza, the Canary Islands, and Majorca in Balearic Islands. They were first seen around 1985. In Madrid, they especially frequent the Ciudad Universitaria (Complutense university campus) and Casa de Campo park. They are a common sight in Barcelona parks, often as numerous as pigeons. They form substantial colonies in Parc de la Ciutadella, Parc de la Barceloneta, and in smaller city parks such as Jardins Josep Trueta in Poble Nou, with a colony as far north as Empuriabrava. They are more frequent in watered urban parks with grass areas and palm trees, near to a river or the sea. The monk parakeet, as an invasive species, has become a problem to local fauna such as pigeons and sparrows, but not yet so harmful to magpies. Parakeets have also caused trouble to agriculture near the cities. Barcelona has the greatest population of monk parakeets in Europe with 2500 parakeets as of February 2010. As of 2013, the estimated population of monk parakeets in Madrid was 1768.
The United Kingdom population in 2011 is believed to be around 150, in the Home Counties region. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced plans in 2011 to control them, countering the threat to infrastructure, crops, and native British wildlife by trapping and rehoming, removing nests, and shooting when necessary.
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- "Pretty, but dangerous! Records of non-native Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) in Mexico" (PDF). Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 82: 1053–1056. 2011.
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||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (April 2009)|
- Johnson, Steve A.; Logue, Sam (2009). "Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)". Florida's Introduced Birds. University of Florida/IFAS.
- Athan, Mattie Sue; Davey, JoAnn; Davey, Jon-Mark (2004). Parrots In The City: One Bird's Struggle for a Place on the Planet. Framingham, Massachusetts: Quaker Parakeet Society. ISBN 1-59113-563-X.
- Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. 2002. ISBN 0-7922-6877-6.
- Sibley, David Allen (2000). The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-45122-6.
- Monk parakeet entry in the World Parrot Trust's Parrot Encyclopedia
- Guide to ageing and sexing (PDF) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta and Gerd-Michael Heinze
- Time lapse photography showing a pet monk parakeet constructing a nest on YouTube
- Information on monk parakeets as introduced species
- Monk parakeet news from around the world
- Naturalized Parrots in the U.S.
- Monk parakeet factsheet from the University of Florida/IFAS
- BrooklynParrots.com, a website about monk parakeets in Brooklyn
- The Parakeet of City Streets, an article on introduced monk parakeets on 10000birds.com
- Information on monk parakeets as pets