Monk parakeets in Parc de la Ciutadella of Barcelona, Spain
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, Mexico, 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.
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 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. 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 one is legal if the bird’s wings are clipped or it is incapable of free flight.
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