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Monk Parakeets gather at one of multiple entrances to a nest built upon the entranceway of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.  Photo: <a href=\"https://www.flickr.com/photos/144871758@N05/\" target=\"_blank\">Ryan F. Mandelbaum</a> "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> Monk Parakeets gather at one of multiple entrances to a nest built upon the entranceway of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.  Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/144871758@N05/" target="_blank">Ryan F. Mandelbaum</a>


Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus

This article appears in the Summer 2021 issue of The Urban Audubon.

By Don Riepe

In 1970, I was working as a substitute teacher at Richmond Hill High School in Queens when a flock of fast-flying, emerald-green birds flew by the window. I soon discovered that these strange, colorful newcomers were Monk Parakeets, native to South America. Also known as Quaker Parrots, these Blue-Jay-sized birds are named for their gray forehead, face, and breast, evoking either a monk’s hood or the colonial-era clothing of Quakers. At close range, the species’ sharply hooked yellow bill stands out in contrast to its cool gray face. But in rapid flight—often the way this bird is spotted, after it makes its presence known with a sharp chattering—the bright flash of its green upperparts, blue-green tail, and deep-blue flight feathers leaves the strongest impression, as it did with me that day 50 years ago.

In its native range, the Monk Parakeet is a year-round resident from southern Brazil south to central Argentina. Imported into the U.S. for the pet trade in the 1960s, the species has become established in the wild through both accidental and purposeful introductions. Today, thriving populations occur in several U.S. localities, particularly New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico—as well as further afield, in Italy, Spain, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Japan.

In New York City, the Monk Parakeet’s growing population is centered in Brooklyn and Queens, though they have been reported in all five boroughs. As they are originally from subtropical areas, the hardy birds can survive our Northeast winters. In the 1980s I remember seeing them at Brooklyn College, where they built their large nests around air conditioners and athletic-field lighting fixtures. Another well-known Brooklyn site is Green-Wood Cemetery, where a colony nests on the historic Gothic Revival archway at the main entrance gatehouse.

These intelligent birds make good pets and are good at mimicking human speech. In their native South American range, Monk Parakeets are often considered crop pests because of their predilection for cereal grain and citrus fruit. Their primary diet is made up of a variety of fruit, seeds, buds, and flowers. So far, in New York State, they are found in and around urban centers, so have had minimal reported impacts on rural agriculture.

The parakeets’ nests, however, do sometimes provoke legitimate concerns from electrical companies. The birds nest communally and often build huge stick structures on telephone poles. The Monk Parakeet is one of only three known parrot species to build stick nests, and the only one to use them exclusively. A single nest typically contains up to 20 chambers, with separate entrances for multiple pairs. As the birds build and maintain their nests year-round, they can create an ongoing maintenance problem for utility companies, an issue that our director of conservation and science has studied in the past (peerj.com/articles/601).

In 1973, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation initiated a failed campaign to eliminate Monk Parakeets; the state of New Hampshire bans owning them outright. Despite these concerns and management issues, these adaptable birds will probably become a stabilized non-native species along with House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Mute Swans, all of which have managed to find their niche in large swaths of North America.

For me, Monk Parakeets are a welcome sight, reminding me of the tropics as they fly freely over New York City.

The Monk Parakeet’s rapid flight doesn’t often allow an opportunity to appreciate the rich blue of its flight feathers. Photo: Kelley Murphy/Audubon Photography Awards "}" data-trix-content-type="undefined" class="attachment attachment--content"> The Monk Parakeet’s rapid flight doesn’t often allow an opportunity to appreciate the rich blue of its flight feathers. Photo: Kelley Murphy/Audubon Photography Awards