Dec 28 2010
Last Thursday at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Florida I heard the screech of birds calling in flight. The sound reminded me of terns so I searched the sky for large white birds but couldn’t find any. Then I remembered. That’s the sound of parakeets.
In western Palm Beach County escaped or released monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) have gone wild. In the four hours I spent at the wetlands I counted at least 20 flying by but they never landed.
Later at Boynton Beach Inlet I found a large flock of black-hooded parakeets (Aratinga nenday), native to South America and pictured above. They loafed on the wires above the park and frequently commented on the world going by. Some perched in pairs shoulder to shoulder, leaning against each other and allo-preening. When other parakeet flocks approached, the large flock screeched a greeting so the others would join them. Eventually the flock numbered at least 75 birds. They grew restless and circled up and away.
Two hundred years ago there were parakeets in Pennsylvania, but no more. When Europeans first came to this continent the Carolina parakeet ranged from New York to Florida, from eastern Kansas to the east coast. But the birds quickly left when settlers arrived on the scene, even when suitable habitat remained. Perhaps the birds were smart to leave. The settlers killed them for their beautiful feathers and as fruit-tree pests.
Eventually the pressure of human encroachment took its toll on the Carolina parakeet. By 1878 the only colonies east of the Mississippi were in remote parts of Florida. By 1918 the last known bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Interestingly the monk parakeet is winter-hardy and has established feral colonies as far north as Brooklyn (NYC), Chicago and Connecticut. They could live in Pennsylvania but the state considers them agricultural pests and it is illegal to sell or own them.
And so we will never know what it was like when wild parakeets roamed Pennsylvania. In Florida you can get a taste of it.
(photo of black-hooded parakeets in Brazil, from Wikipedia. Click on the photo to see the original)