In Part I of this article I related my observations of a monk parrot nest, and we looked at some of the nest’s unusual properties (this is the only parrot that constructs a free standing nest as opposed to utilizing a tree hollow). The use of a communal nest, and the bird’s natural ability to survive in cold climates, has contributed to its success as an introduced species. Interestingly, it has become established in some places that seem, at first glance, to be quite hostile to parrots – most notably New York City. It is particularly common in parts of Brooklyn (as a native New Yorker I can attest that loud, raucous personalities are not unknown in that borough, so perhaps the birds know where to settle after all!).
The monk parrot’s ability to survive in noisy, threatening habitats near people is partially explained by its complex social behaviors. Birds delay breeding in order to help relatives raise young, and non-breeding adults alert others to danger and locate new food sources. Rather than disperse after fledging, most of the young stay with the natal flock and add their own chambers to the nest, thus becoming “helpers” and future breeders. As with other species of birds (i.e. scrub jays) that cooperate in this manner, the presence of older individuals who are familiar with local predators and other dangers and food sources greatly increases the younger birds’ chances of survival.
More so than most parrots, monks routinely post sentinels when feeding. On several occasions, I followed free-living monk parrots to feeding areas and never failed to see the guards, and they never failed to warn the flock of my presence. I was even able to observe the sentinel being “relieved” – a bird that had been feeding flew up to the sentinel’s branch, there was a most definite “conversation” between them, and then the original sentinel flew to the ground to feed. I was not able to determine if this is the species’ usual behavior, but I did see it on two occasions.
The Winter Diet
Monk parrots feed mainly upon grain, along with some fruits, tree buds and insects, but are remarkably adaptable as regards diet. This characteristic has also helped them to adapt to new environments. They are known to frequent bird feeders during the winter, and in rural areas they raid grain put out for farm animals. I have observed those living on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo to enter the paddocks of deer and cattle in search of grain, and to consume pellets put out for peafowl. They are also known to turn to pine cones for food in winter, and on farms have been observed consuming yams unearthed by plows.
Success at Home and Abroad
These qualities and survival techniques have rendered monk parrots among the most successful of all Psittacines, in both their natural and introduced ranges. In their native Argentina, monk parrots are considered to be a quite serious agricultural pest, costing farmers billions of dollars yearly in lost crops. Clearing land for farms encourages their spread, as they prefer open habitats to thick forests. In addition to at least 15 states in the USA, breeding populations of monk parrots can be found in Kenya, Japan, southern Canada, Spain, England, Italy, France, Belgium, Austria, Holland, Puerto Rico, Bermuda and the Bahamas.
Monk Parrots as Pets
Incidentally, these 12 inch long dynamos make fine pets for the right owners. Attractively clad in gray and green, with a bit of blue in the wings (blue, yellow and other color strains are also available), they are inquisitive and tame readily. They are, however, quite vocal, and a small group can be deafening.
Monk parrots routinely cover great distances when feeding, and are always busy with nest repair. These habits render them quite active, and they definitely need a good deal of space, and much to amuse themselves with, in captivity. If circumstances permit, a group housed outdoors in a large aviary will provide countless hours of enjoyment. It was long popular in Europe to allow monk parrots to fly free once the nest was constructed, as they rarely fail to return to this home base. As interesting as this prospect may be, it has likely been a factor in the establishment of feral populations throughout Europe, and should be discouraged.
Monk parrots will breed in pairs as well as groups, and will utilize a nest box if unable to construct a free standing nest. The incubation period is 26 days, and the young fledge in 6 weeks or so. The adults rarely experience difficulties in raising the young.
Please write in for further details concerning captive care, or to share your observations of free living monk parrots.
Interesting articles concerning Brooklyn College’s studies of free living parrots are posted at:http://www.freeparrots.net/article.php?story=20031221072241561