When I go birding with my mother, there is one place she like to go more than any other. It is a park with a population of wild monk parakeets located in Edgewater, NJ. Unlike most birds we birders run into on our adventures, these birds actually like people. While they are not sitting on your finger like a pet bird would, they are clearly not afraid of people, and you can get a good look at them without binoculars. They are also brightly colored and noisy--very hard to miss. I highly recommend visiting a wild monk parakeet colony if there is one nearby. Even novice or extremely casual birders like my mother will enjoy these gregarious birds.
There are no living species of parakeets native to North America. At one time a species called the Carolina Parakeet lived throughout the United States. Nobody is sure exactly why these beautiful birds went extinct. They were hunted for their beautiful feathers, and they suffered as many animals do from habitat loss, but they were still thriving in some areas of the southeast when they suddenly disappeared. Some scientists suspect they were killed by a poultry disease that they caught from chickens in the nearby farms. The wild population disappeared in 1904, and the last captive bird died a few years later, ironically in the same cage that Martha the last passenger pigeon died in.
Monk parakeets (aka Quaker Parrots) are not native to the United States, but they are the only wild members of the parrot family most of us will see in this country. There are different stories about how these South American natives came to live in places like municipal parks and college campuses. Perhaps they are pets that were released by their owners, or perhaps they escaped from a boat or train. Nobody is too sure, but there have been populations of them living in certain places since the 1970s. They are both loved and hated. They nest on transformers and are sometimes blamed for blackouts. However, since they are just so darn cute, they have a lot of fans who will fight for them. The parrots of Edgewater, NJ have many fans, despite the problems they sometimes cause. Thanks to the activism of local parrot lovers, they are now protected. Their nests must be humanely removed and it is illegal to kill the birds, which number about 54 in population.
There are also monk parakeets living in Brooklyn, Houston, Connecticut and Oregon, and possibly other states as well. Many of them do not have the protection the Edgewater parakeets have. The Connecticut population seems especially vulnerable to nest destruction by local utility companies.
While a true birding ďsnobĒ hates all introduced species, I cannot feel anything but love for these cute little birds. Of course, I donít live near them, so itís never been my electricity thatís affected.
If you live near a colony of wild parakeets, I recommend you find them and pay them a visit. You wonít be disappointed.