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Birdwatching USA
monk parakeet We're all used to seeing large groups of birds in urban and suburban areas -- usually common species like pigeons and sparrows. But if you glimpse a flash of brilliant green and hear a series of raucous screeches, it's somewhat of a shock to realize that you're not in the wild -- you're in the midst of a thriving Monk parakeet colony! All over the United States, these parrots, also called Quaker parakeets for the cowl-like coloring on their heads, have established wild (or feral) colonies.

How did the monk parakeet go from being a house pet to a wild animal? There are several theories that attempt to explain the many monk parakeet colonies in this country. The most celebrated is that a crateful of the birds from South America was accidentally broken upon its arrival at New York's Kennedy Airport in the late 1960s and all the birds flew away, but that may be an urban legend. Other people believe that the original monk parakeets were escaped pets that banded together, forming large groups and raising families together.

How can a South American bird survive and thrive in our colder climate? Well, for one thing, unlike the many parrots that are tropical creatures, coming from steamy rainforests, monk parakeets are native to the temperate areas in South America that are closer to our own climate. For another, the monk parakeet is also the only parrot that builds its own nests out of sticks -- most others find holes or cavities and move in. These communal nests, in treetops, utility poles, lampposts, and other high places, allow groups of many birds to live and raise families together; they are true apartment dwellers. And lastly, the birds are expert at tracking down backyard feeders, which help them survive cold winters.

However they got there, monk parakeets have established themselves all over the country. Want to find them in your own backyard? Roll over the map above to see whether there's a colony near you.


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