Feral Quakers: Separating Fact From Fiction


Introduction

In the United States, feral Quaker (Myiopsitta monachus) colonies were developed by imported wild-caught birds that escaped from broken shipping boxes. Because of flock survival behavior, several birds fled at the same moment and were able to live in a new habitat. Because Quaker parakeets are a sedentary species that stays close to their communal nests all year, these colonies have stayed steady throughout time. They reside near cities and are often observed at bird feeders. They have not expanded throughout the country or become the agricultural problem that was expected.

The importation of wild Quaker parakeets into the United States is no longer permitted. Kansas has no natural colonies of Quaker parakeets. Tame and captive-bred Quakers would not be able to live in the wild for long, and the Kansas climate would not be kind to them.

In the 1970s, an alarmist campaign was launched against Quaker parakeets (also known as Monk parakeets), genus Myiopsitta. Arguments based solely on supposition acquired traction via government news releases and media promotion. The misconception emphasized that wild Quaker parakeets were an invasive nuisance species that would reproduce and spread throughout the country, damaging agriculture fields and fruit orchards wherever they went.

Kansas responded by making it unlawful to own them. This is hardly unexpected given that the state’s vast plains are predominantly farmlands where cash crops like wheat, corn, sorghum, and soybeans are mainstays. Farmers were terrified that another bird scourge might descend on their ripening crops, threatening their hard work and livelihoods. Massive swarms of crows, blackbirds, and starlings had become all too typical for them.

Similar laws were prepared and enacted in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Hawaii, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming for the same reasons, making it unlawful to possess or sell these birds. Unfortunately, the persons who established these regulations knew very little about parrots and relied on books and reasoning that were not founded on sound research.

When the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife debated whether or not to put parrots on a regulated list of authorized species and perhaps prohibit Quaker parakeets from the state, Pat Heere and Julie Atkinson, two committed Oregon aviculturists, collaborated to establish the Oregon Avian Alliance. Pat, Julie, and several other aviculturists testified. Hundreds of additional breeders and bird owners also attended the hearings, and together they persuaded the state that there was no need for parrot ownership regulations.

The Genus Myiopsitta

There are four recognized subspecies of Myiopsitta. These are the Monk parakeet, Mendoza Grey-breasted parakeet, Paraguayan Grey-breasted parakeet, and Bolivian Grey-breasted parakeet. The physical attributes of the subspecies varies somewhat as a result of their diverse ranges and environments.

This stocky tiny parrot is 11 to 12 inches tall and has a long, pointed tail. They have a medium green back and brighter green feathers on their wings and tail. Lores, cheeks, and neck are all gray, blending into light gray. On the lower belly, white-tipped breast feathers blend into a brownish olive green. Flight feathers are brilliant blue with a black edging. The bill has a pink flesh tone to it.

The nicknames “Monk” and “Quaker” may refer to the fact that the gray feathers, with a little imagination, resemble a monk’s cowl or the kind of attire previously worn by Quaker females. Monachus is frequently abbreviated as monk. Myiopsitta chicks have a propensity of begging and “quaking” when they are hungry. They have been seen “quaking” themselves off the edge of a table! This is the most common reason for their “Quaker” moniker.

Myiopsitta is endemic to South America, where it may be found from southern Brazil through Uruguay and Paraguay, then down through central Bolivia and south to Argentina. In the wild, these birds prefer lowlands with little rainfall, open forest trees along watercourses, savanna woods, palm groves, and orchards. They eat on seeds, fruits, berries, nuts, leaf buds, blooms, insects, and their larvae when foraging away from their nesting location. Thistle, grass, and tree seeds, particularly palm nuts, are popular meals.

Pest Status Challenged

Myiopsitta are agricultural pests in their native range nations, according to Enrique H. Bucher*, a renowned Argentine ornithologist. According to his findings, neotropical parrots do not meet the conventional profile of a successful pest species because they lack the combination of high mobility, mega-flock eating and roosting, opportunistic mating, and high production that successful pest birds like starlings and crows have.

*Enrique Bucher has spent decades researching, developing, and implementing a multi-species management strategy for South America’s Gran Chaco semi-arid savannah. Pest control and parrot conservation are only two of his specialties. He has written several publications, won various prizes, and has been a member of the American Ornithologists’ Union for many years. Bucher is the foremost expert on Quaker parakeets in their natural environment.

These neotropical birds are not the same as house sparrows or starlings, which were imported alien species but proven to be more destructive and invasive. The erroneous belief that Quaker parakeets will become the next starling in the United States was the principal justification used to urge different state legislators to prohibit Quaker parakeets from their respective states. This argument, as we will see, was not founded on facts.

Feral Quakers in the U.S.

Feral populations that do occur in the United States are usually found around historic bird quarantine facilities when whole cargoes of birds escaped all at once, most often due to defective shipping boxes. Some zoo birds were freed because they were popular as pets in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s and were no longer appreciated as display species. Some fled near airports in major cities. These birds had one thing in common: they were all wild captured birds that had been smuggled into our nation. Some of them were able to adjust to their new surroundings.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, about 35,000 Quaker parakeets were brought into the United States. By 1973, there were 5,000 free-flying Quakers in the United States. For every escaping, wild captured bird that survived, there must have been at least one or two that did not.

The former bird import quarantine stations were in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, FL, Chicago, IL, New Orleans, LA, New York, NY, Seattle, WA, Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, Portland, OR, Baltimore, MD, Boston, MA, and Atlanta, GA. Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, Chicago, New Orleans, Portland, Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, St. Petersburg, and Tampa are among the cities where wild Quaker parakeets have established colony nest sites. There are no established colonies of feral Quaker parakeets in Kansas, and no sightings of this species have been reported.

Quaker Parakeets are Sedentary

The truth is that, despite the fact that wild Quaker parakeets were introduced into the US environment over thirty years ago, they have not spread throughout the continent as first anticipated. The Oregon Avian Alliance utilized this information in their arguments to stop legislation in their state that would have prohibited the possession of these birds. The wild Quaker parakeet colony in Portland, Oregon, has remained stable for over twenty years.

Quakers have a maximum life span of 25 to 30 years, however not all birds survive this long. Feral Quaker numbers in the United States have remained steady over the past thirty years. They have not spread beyond their natural breeding regions.

Quaker parakeets are the only parrot species that builds community nests completely out of twigs, branches, straw, leaves, and other appropriate material. The nests of feral parakeets in the United States are built on the highest branches of trees and on top of utility poles. Each couple adds their own “apartment” with three rooms. One chamber is for laying and incubating eggs, another is for young birds that have already fledged, and the third is a lookout point from which the whole chamber may be defended if necessary.

These nest constructions demand year-round upkeep and offer protection for the little parrots. The feral Quakers have survived in locations where winters are harsher than in their native South America due to communal nest building. The colony’s chicks are fed by juvenile birds and non-breeding Quaker parakeets. Even while scavenging for food, the communal Quakers keep together. One or two flock members serve as sentinels, alerting the others to potential risks.

fledgling, wild Quakers seldom go more than 500 yards from their parents’ nesting location. Displaced Quakers that have had their original nest site destroyed seldom, if ever, settle more than a few hundred yards elsewhere.

Birds and Bees

Most wild parrots, unlike songbirds, sparrows, starlings, and blackbirds, do not lay and rear several clutches of young. Quaker parakeets may lay up to eight eggs in a clutch, however not every egg will hatch or every baby will survive in the wild. Large clutches of eggs have developed in response to high mortality rates in birds. The typical clutch size for Quakers is three or four eggs, and all the young have a greater chance of surviving in this size clutch. A number of variables influence when a couple will nest. Climate and the availability of food supplies are critical. Most Quakers reach breeding age around the age of two.

Eggs are deposited at least a day apart, therefore the age of the first hatched chick and the final hatched chick may vary by more than a week. Mother Nature does this to ensure that some of the kids survive. If the elder chicks become ill and die, the younger ones take their place. When older and healthier chicks push out the smaller hatchlings, they become weak and starve.

Healthy reproduction is influenced by a variety of variables. When the chicks hatch, the parent birds must be in good health in order to keep up with their hectic feeding schedule. To promote breeding success and successful egg laying, both male and female nutritional needs must be addressed. Calcium-deficient hens may lay eggs with thin eggshells that may not survive, or they may get egg bound, which can be deadly.

In theory, a growing egg should lose between 15 and 17 percent of its weight during incubation. Certain eggs need more regular egg rotation, while others demand more or less humidity. The humidity setting varies per species and is mostly determined by the geographical location of the species’ origin. Developing eggs are vulnerable to severe temperature or weather fluctuations.

The embryo is prevented from merging with the eggshell membranes by turning. If the embryo becomes stuck to the shell, development may be catastrophically deformed, or the chick may be improperly positioned for hatching. Only the healthiest chicks will survive the pipping procedure and hatch. Some never make it out of the egg. Those that do hatch will face several challenges on their road to maturity.

The mother parakeet incubates the eggs for approximately a month, and the babies hatch between 6 and 8 weeks of age. The youngsters will stay close to their parents and learn how to seek for food, spot risks, and generally survive in their surroundings. Another clutch may be conceivable if the weather allows and the resources and circumstances are appropriate. Again, the success of a second clutch (i.e. chicks that fledge and survive to maturity) is dependent on weather, food, health, and other challenges to daily survival.

Wild v. Tame

Parrots are gregarious animals that need the safety and protection of their flock. The feral birds that did survive were not isolated individuals. They were birds that had been released or escaped in groups big enough to form a functional flock. If they were lucky enough to discover such a flock and achieve acceptance, single wild captured Quakers would have been able to live. There is material that suggests feral populations exist in our nation because some individuals abandoned their imported pet Quakers in the wild. New feral colonies are not a problem since wild captured Quakers are no longer transported into the United States.

The Quaker parakeet has a reputation for being a loud and raucous bird. During the period of bird importation, this contested “truth” was often cited as the reason why some Quaker owners released their birds into the wild. They are as loud as any other parrot in captivity. If this reasoning were true, we should have dozens upon dozens of kinds of feral parrot flocks all throughout the United States! Parrots prefer to vocalize the most during dawn and sunset, which is a hereditary and natural characteristic.

Even if one or two captive-reared Quaker parakeets escaped from neighboring states, it’s unlikely they’d be able to survive in the wild for long. This is particularly true in Kansas, where natural bird predators like hawks and eagles would devour a little, lone parakeet. Crows, like other groups of wild birds, have a well-deserved reputation for murdering escaping pet birds. There are various bird control companies around the nation that utilize trained hawks and falcons to kill nuisance birds in metropolitan areas or near airports.

If fugitive Quakers survive their avian competition and predators, they face a slew of additional dangers. Pets in shelters and aviary birds have little chance against dogs and cats. Opossums, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and snakes are among the native predators that might be deadly. Captive birds would not be immune to the illnesses of these wild animals and birds. Birds in the wild must also contend with a variety of external and internal parasites. A bird bred in captivity would have no idea which plants to eat and which to avoid.

The chances of an escaped, captive-bred Quaker parakeet surviving outside of a house or aviary are very slim. If a tame male and female Quaker parakeet met after escaping, they may or might not find each other attractive. Pet birds often form attachments to their owners. The odds of one inexperienced, captive-bred couple successfully mating, brooding, and hatching babies in the wild are beyond comprehension.

Nests have been damaged by gale-force winds in the established Chicago feral colony, and crushed viable eggs have been discovered under the rubble. If there were any Quaker parakeet nests in Kansas, the winds would be hostile.

Urban Dwellers

Feral Quaker parakeets congregate around urban areas, where they may be spotted eating the fruits and buds of ornamental plants and trees or at birdfeeders. They also eat dandelions and grass and weed seed heads. Myiopsitta are sedentary animals. They construct their colony nest and stay there all year.

Many people are prepared to feed stray Quakers and other birds in their yards. However, not all of them are aware that bird feeders must be sterilized on a regular basis to prevent illness from spreading among avian populations. Salmonella and other infections thrive in overcrowded and filthy feeders. Sick birds are at risk of malnutrition, dehydration, predation, and extreme weather. They also infect other birds with the sickness. A large illness epidemic in a feral colony would make it almost hard for the Quaker population to recover without human assistance and intervention.

Agricultural Pest Status Exaggerated

Several variables have been identified as contributing to reported crop damage by parrots in their natural environment, according to research. Poor agricultural methods, particularly when ripening crops are not collected quickly, may be to blame. Farmers would sometimes postpone harvesting in order to gain a higher market price. Because breeding season starts a month or two before harvest time, their orchards and fields become more vulnerable to hungry newly fledged parrots.

Bird trappers sometimes overstate parrot nuisance status in order to excuse their capture for the pet trade. Although the United States no longer imports wild-caught parrots, many other nations do. Farmers sometimes catch and sell birds to augment their income, and the selling of birds is often more profitable than crop sales. Small subsistence gardeners will kill an invading parrot and offer it as a main meal.

The state with the most feral Quaker parakeets is Florida, which is known for its citrus fields. These wild parakeets have never been managed or governed by the authorities. The presence of these wild birds in their state has had no effect on their agriculture.

Regulations are in Place for Exotic Invasive Species

  • Local

The most well-known feral Quakers are most likely those in Chicago. The Hyde Park Parakeets, as they’re known, were discovered in the early 1970s. Harold Washington, the late mayor, liked watching the Quakers that nested outside his Hyde Park apartment. In fact, they are well-liked by the majority of residents who live near parakeet colonies.

One power business, though, has battled to have the birds removed. Quakers sometimes construct their large nests on top of utility poles, and one Hyde Park nest did create a minor fire, albeit no significant damage. During the autumn of 1997, ComEd planned to relocate the nest and all the nests on Hyde Park power poles, but residents were concerned that the birds would not be able to survive a hard winter without cover.

Alternatives were considered in city council sessions. Many electric companies provide a secure platform atop a transformer for nest building operations. An Arizona electricity company did this to accommodate a pair of ospreys. However, ComEd intended to exterminate the homeless Quakers and was not open to the concept. Another idea was to build a false pole in neighboring Nichols Park. Large laundry baskets filled with twigs and strung in trees, according to Mark Spreyer, creator of the Chicago Peregrine Release and Restoration project, might serve as a foundation for new nests. To address this problem, the town has regulations and procedures in place.

  • Federal

The federal legislation provide measures for regulating or removing bird pests. The majority of these are for crows, blackbirds, cowbirds, starlings, and pigeons. Because most nuisance birds are also restricted by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), or Lacey Act, depredation permits are often required in order to comply with these laws. Myiopsitta, on the other hand, is not covered by any of these regulations.

President Clinton signed Executive Order 13112 into law on February 3, 1999. The order addresses exotic invasive species particularly, and an Invasive Species Council was formed to suggest strategies and activities to manage or remove troublesome pest species. Our country’s principal bird pests were identified as English or house sparrows, European starlings, and domestic pigeons. There was no mention of Quaker or Monk parakeets. However, a process is in place to deal with any problems that may occur.

  • Kansas

There is no reason to prohibit Quaker parakeets from aviculture in Kansas since rules exist to address any difficulties that may occur with wild equivalents. Title 2. Agriculture; Article 24. Pest Control, Kansas Statutes, includes birds in the legal definition of “animal.” Furthermore, the term “pest” may refer to “any insect, rodent, nematode, fungus, weed, any other kind of terrestrial or aquatic plant or animal life, or virus, bacterium, or other microorganism… or which the secretary may designate to be a nuisance.”

Quaker parakeets are often regarded as the greatest talkers among the smaller parrot species, and they make excellent pets. They like whistles, chattering, and playing. They’re lively and engaging small birds. However, under Kansas law, anybody in possession of such a bird would be in violation of the law, and their adorable pet might be taken away and destroyed.

Conclusion

Many variables influence avian survival in the wild. Proper diet has a significant impact on the health of any bird, wild or domestic. Birds are more prone to sickness and parasites when they are not fed properly. They cannot breed or hatch healthy chicks if they do not get enough nutrients. Because hardly every bird that is born will breed, feral populations of Quaker parakeets in the United States have stayed steady for twenty to thirty years. Many people are unlikely to live to their full potential. If this occurs, a colony is unlikely to recover from a catastrophic disease epidemic or weather disaster.

Wild birds have evolved unique behavioural patterns to adapt to their local surroundings. Due of their tiny size and vulnerability, Quaker parakeets have learnt to construct colony nests and forage as a flock. Over time, the feral Quaker colonies in the United States have remained stationary and stable. They reside near cities, where people are eager to provide food and water for them. They have not become the agricultural scourge that was previously feared. There are no natural Quaker parakeet colonies in Kansas, and it is doubtful that there will ever be.

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