Commonly known as Quaker parrots, these vividly colored birds are well-known around St. Petersburg.
If you’ve spent any time around St. Petersburg, you’ve likely seen groups of brightly colored parrots, screeching as they fly past. Typically, they cluster in groups, which for other types of birds might be called a flock. But for parrots, the correct term is pandemonium. That’s right…a pandemonium of parrots, which is a name that fits them rather well.
The local parrots around St. Pete are the same as those seen in other parts of Florida as well. Often called Quaker parrots, they are more formally known as Monk parakeets, which boast an electric-green color with yellow and blue highlights. Those with black faces are actually a close relative called Nanday parakeets. Despite the differences, both squawk equally as loud, particular those warning the group of approaching hawks. Since the late 1960s, both species have enjoyed the Florida climate.
Quaker parrots originated from South America from regions that included Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. Pet trade brought them to the states in the 1960s, and eventually, some escaped captivity to create feral groups. Reportedly, as many as 65,000 were imported before trade was stopped. As of 2016, it was estimated that 35,000 Quaker parrots now exist throughout Florida in the wild. Given their rate of reproduction, it’s very probable this figure is much higher today.
The Quaker parrot is quite intriguing for several reasons. For one, it’s highly intelligent and can be trained to talk. Likewise, it eats fruits and berries in addition to insects. In South America, Quaker parrots were reported to destroy as much as 40 percent of fruit orchards, making them quite the pest. But in Florida, they have mainly stayed in urban areas rather than rural ones. The Quaker parrots also create massive nests, often in power stations and on utility poles. Their intricate honeycomb nests make for an ideal place to stay warm, lay eggs, and prevent pesky snakes from coming around.
Despite complaints from the power companies, it appears the Quaker parrots are here to stay. They have filled an ecological void previously occupied by the only native North American parrot, the Carolina parakeet. It became extinct in 1918 due to deforestation and pest control. It too was a fruit-eating parrot. Hopefully, the fate of the Quaker parrots won’t be the same. While they're not likely to become less noisy, their brilliant colors and our familiarity with them will probably protect them from harm. Come to think of it, St. Pete certainly wouldn’t be the same without them.