When I was growing up in Chicago, urban parakeets were big news. A nesting colony of monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) was established in the south side neighborhood of Hyde Park, as well as other populations scattered around the city and suburbs. The Hyde Park population became particularly well known because of its prime real estate (a park near the Lake) and its most famous neighbor (Chicago mayor Harold Washington). It also became one of the best studied monk parakeet sites in the country.
Parakeets in Chicago? Yep. The species is native to South America, but relatively common in the pet trade. Starting in the 1960s, colonies of these green and white birds popped up throughout the country, likely through accidental (bird flies out of window) and purposeful (human gets tired of taking care of bird) releases. Although there are some 25 species of parrots now found throughout the US, the monk parakeets are the only ones that can survive cold climates.
A new study describes the apparent decline of the famous Hyde Park colony, which seems to be decreasing in size even as populations seem to be increasing in other parts of the metro area. Although it is unclear why that’s happening, one explanation might be a disease or parasite, as the decline is localized to the Hyde Park population, which itself seems to be a source for populations that have been established in other parts of the city.
Monk parakeets seem to inspire either great love or great hate in people who live and work around them. They will build nests on utility structures, which can cause fires and electrical outages, and can be quite rowdy, so some find the noise to be disruptive. However, there are also people who work hard to protect the birds, even lobbying for pro-parakeet legislation.
The authors of this article started the Chicago Parakeet Study, which includes a website complete with a map showing all of the known nesting sites of the birds in the city and suburbs. The website also includes a link to a survey that residents can use to describe other nesting sites that are not listed, which will help researchers gain a better understanding of monk parakeet population dynamics in the Chicago area.
Pruett-Jones, Stephen, Appelt, Christopher W., Sarfaty, Anna, Van Vossen, Brandy, Leibold, Mathew, and Minor, Emily S. 2011. Urban parakeets in Northern Illinois: A 40-year perspective. Urban Ecosystems. Published online first: DOI 10.1007/s11252-011-022203