The Parakeets and Parrots of Florida: Escaped Pets Have Established Exotic Populations in the U.S.Jan 27, 2022 01:03PM ● By WILLIAM R. COX
Lories, parakeets, parrots, and macaws are all part of the bird family Psittacidae. There are 322 known species of these colorful birds throughout the world in tropical and subtropical areas and some temperate regions. They are popular pets, leading to their capture and import—hundreds of thousands of them brought to the United States from the 1960s through the 1990s.
Many of these pets have either escaped or been released on purpose, setting up populations in the wild. They are most abundant in Florida and California, where they have adapted easily because of the widespread tropical and subtropical trees and plants moved into these states from the tropical countries where these birds are native. Outside of their native habitat, members of the Psittacidae family show the greatest exotic diversity in South Florida.
Massive destruction of their native habitat and unregulated capture of this family have endangered many species. The conservation group BirdLife International has listed 94 species as threatened, and 30 others close to threatened.
All members of the Psittacidae living in the U.S. are exotic and therefore unprotected. Little is known about the life history of these exotic species and their potential impacts to native habitats and bird species. Agricultural impacts have been reported outside U.S. borders where approximately 15 percent of the world’s parrot species are seen as crop pests. Little is known about agricultural impacts within the United States.
The Psittacidae is an astonishing and interesting fauna. Knowledge of the life history of the species of this family helps to understand how they have adapted so well in Florida and California. Members of this family illustrate the greatest diversity in size for all the world’s bird families. They range from 3.7 to 39 inches in size. For the most common established exotic species in Florida the size ranges from 7.0 to 16.0 inches.
Psittacids generally are large-headed birds with an unnoticeable neck and short legs. They are mostly arboreal, meaning they regularly utilize trees. They have adapted to moving through trees with their zygodactyl feet, which have two toes forward and two toes backward. They use their toes and beak dexterously to eat and to climb on branches. Their bills are curved, sharp, thick, and short. They have an articulate and powerful tongue that helps in handling seeds, fruit, palm nuts, and other plant food. The muscular tongue positions the food to be sheared and to remove pits from fruit by the sharp and powerful bill.
The black-hooded parakeet (Nandayus nenday) is the second most common and widespread parakeet in Florida, with the monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) taking the top spot.
Both species were released, either accidentally or intentionally, in Florida in the late 1960s. Others most often observed in Florida include the rose-ringed parakeet, red-crowned parrot, orange-winged parrot, white-winged parakeet, yellow-chevroned parakeet, mitrid parakeet, red-masked parakeet, and budgerigar.
The black-hooded parakeet was first observed outside of confinement in 1969 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Its population has grown to more than 1,000 birds, ranging mostly from Bayonet Point north of Tampa to Sarasota. They can also be observed in smaller abundance on both coasts of Florida—in Bradenton, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Miami, and St. Augustine. They favor urban and suburban sites with exotic plants such as royal palms and Mexican fan palms, where they feed and nest in noisy flocks of up to 100 birds. I have observed 12 black-hooded parakeets perched and feeding in our royal palm in Fort Myers. They are easy to recognize: medium size (12 inches long with a wingspread of 23 inches), mostly green with blackish bill and face, reddish thighs, light blue breast, and a long tail. No other parakeet or parrot looks like the black-hooded parakeet. These parakeets fly over our house weekly, calling loudly to and from their feeding and evening roost sites.
They feed in exotic palm trees and other exotic vegetation, taking seeds, flowers, Australian pine cones, acorns, palm fruits, mango fruit, and other plant material. They nest in cavities in telephone poles and palm snags. Little is known about their nesting habits, but in South America they have three to four eggs, which they incubate for 21 to 23 days. They fledge approximately at 56 days. Their population is increasing along both coasts in South Florida and the Keys.
William R. Cox has been a professional nature photographer and ecologist for more than 35 years. Visit him online at williamrcoxphotography.com.