Monk Parakeet Biology

Where they’re from:
In South America, the Monk Parakeet is common in Argentina, southern Brazil, and western Paraguay. One subspecies, called the Cliff Parakeet, is geographically isolated from the other subspecies, and found only in central Bolivia. Unlike most other parrot species, which are declining due to logging and nest site habitat destruction, the Monk Parakeet is expanding its range in South America, due in part to human planting of non-native eucalyptus tree and their ability to adapt and thrive in human dominated areas (1).

How they got here:
The Monk Parakeet first began establishing wild populations in North America in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when they were very popular pets. Their arrival in the United States (and many other countries) stemmed directly from the pet trade (2). How they became established in the wild is attributed to both unintentional and intentional releases (from both private pet owners and zoos), and according to urban legend, escapees from damaged shipping crates.

What they eat:
In North America, Monk Parakeets are generalist feeders, relying mostly on plant-based food, such as berries, flower blossoms, fruits, seeds, and nuts, but are known to occasionally eat insects (3). Their diet changes though out the year depending on food availability. In the Spring, depending on the location, their diet consists mainly of leaf buds of deciduous trees (3). They have also been found to eat acorns, cedar berries, and pine seeds. During the fall, they eat mostly apple, crabapples, and holly berries (3). During the winter, the major source of the diet of the Monk Parakeet is commercial bird seed provided at bird feeders (4).

How they nest:
They are the only known parrot species that nests colonially and builds their own nests out of sticks; all other parrot species nest in cavities. What makes the nesting of Monk Parakeets so controversial is they often build their nests on utility poles, a practice that can cause fires and power outages as nests fall down. In Florida, where the problem is more substantial than it is here in Connecticut, Florida Power and Light Company has removed over 3,000 nests between 2003 and 2007, at the estimated cost of $415 to $1500 per nest, costing the utility provider between $1.3 to 4.7 million dollars in that five year period (5).

Monk Parakeet nests, in their native range, can grow up to over 200 chambers, with some weighing up to 2600 pounds, but nests that size are relatively rare (3). Average nests range from one to twenty chambers in size (3), though multiple chambered nests are rare on utility poles in Connecticut. Normally, they nest in trees; however, they also nest on man-made structures, such as fire escapes, stadium lighting, and electrical substations.

1. Bucher and Aramburu. 2014. Land-use changes and monk parakeet expansion in the Pampas grasslands of Argentina. Journal of Biogeography. 41: 1160-1170.
2. Russello et al. 2008. Genetic evidence links invasive Monk Parakeet populations in the United States to the international pet trade. BMC Evolutionary Biology 8:217.
3. Spreyer and Bucher. 1998. Monk Parakeet in: Birds of North America Online (A. Poole ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/322
4. Hyman and Pruett-Jones. 1995. Natural history of the Monk Parakeet in Hyde Park, Chicago. Wilson Bull. 107:510-517.
5. Avery et al. 2007.Diazacon inhibits reproduction in invasive Monk Parakeet populations. Journal of Wildlife Management 72:1449-1452.