December 22, 2014
MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Monk Parakeets find paradise at White Rock
by Lucy Higginbotham
Jun 15, 2012 | 4535 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by George Boyd
Photo by George Boyd
Tootie, one of the Monk Parakeets at the Lawther electrical substation, enjoys a snack of berries.

You can often hear them before you see them. A cross between a screech and a squawk floats on the air and the telltale green feathers herald the Monk Parakeets (MPs) that live in the East Dallas area.

“People think ‘parakeets’ and those budgies from Australia come to their minds. But we aren’t budgies!” insisted Tootie, one of the birds that lives near the Filter Building at White Rock lake.

“Yes, we’re actually parrots. That’s why our other name is Quaker Parrots. All parakeets are parrots, but not all parrots are parakeets,” added her husband, Pistol.

Meet Your Neighbor has interviewed a cat and a dog. Now, meet the birds.

“Oh, we’ve been here several years and just love it! Except for the hawks and feral cats, we’re fairly protected from predators,” Tootie said. “There is plenty of room to spread out, and we like our neighbors.”

“The two-legged or the feathered?” asked Pistol.

“Well, some of the two-leggeds put safflower seed out for us at their people nests, which we really enjoy. But I was actually referring to the other MPs that share our apartment nest. It’s great except for the del Fuegos – they snore!” When asked if they thought their nests interfered with the Oncor power lines, they admitted that they might get too enthusiastic with their architecture.

“We are very clever and extremely good weavers, you know,” Pistol said proudly. “We are the only parrots that make twig nests. They call us ‘obligate cavity nesters,’ and we not only make first-rate nests, but we make several of them, which makes up the colony.”

“It’s more fun that way, you know – the more the merrier!” added his wife of 13 years.

But more is not always merrier for Oncor.

Deborah Boyle, vice president of environment for Oncor Electric Delivery Company, said their tower structures are preferred by the MPs, which can become problematic.

“The nests can get very large and can interfere with the operation of switches, re-closures and other equipment in our substations and on our poles. “In some cases, the nests have caught fire, causing damage to our electrical equipment and interrupting service for a period of time,” she said.

No one seems to know for sure how the parrots got into the wild. They were legally imported as pets to the United States from the 1960s until 1993. They are so abundant in South America – specifically Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay – that they are considered agricultural pests and worthy of elimination.

“You mean they kill us down there?! Holy Chinaberries!” squawked Tootie. “I’m glad we don’t migrate!”

The MPs prolific breeding has also created the ever-expanding population here in the Dallas area. MPs are monogamous and can have a clutch of one to eleven eggs. The average is seven, but there is a 50 percent mortality rate of the birds due to predation and diseases. That said, they can hatch two or three clutches a year.

Janet Reed is a Ph.D. candidate doing her research on the MPs. As of February 2012, Reed and her volunteers had counted 38 colonies in DFW with a total of about 309 birds. That number has probably increased through the spring. The last estimate of the Lawther Substation colony included 16 birds.

“But we have cousins in the other two White Rock Substations nearby,” Pistol added. “And our colony has had up to 29 in the last couple of years.”

Reed said there is no evidence that they compete with the native bird population. They are not endangered nor are they protected under any state or federal laws.

Oncor’s sister company, Luminant, sought proposals from wildlife specialists to solve the problem of the prolific parrots preventing power service. “I looked for 13 months for the perfect Ph.D. project,” Reed said. “I applied for this research fellowship for several reasons. I love being outdoors and happen to have a Monk Parakeet of my own. I was thrilled to be awarded such an opportunity.” Reed, who has lived all throughout Texas and the Southwest doing field research on other projects, chose the DFW area and has been observing, cataloging data and tagging transmitter collars on birds since 2010.

“Ooooh! That’s what those necklaces are!” exclaimed Tootie. “I saw some on the Richardson colony gals and thought they were smashing. Can I get one?”

Reed has been using the collars to track their feeding habits, nest site selection and habitat use. She assures all bird lovers that she is adhering by rigorous animal protocol and not harming the birds. She expects to finish her fellowship in May 2013.

Her goal for the project is to develop non-lethal management solutions to keep the parrots from nesting on the utility structures. Her results may help Texans as well as residents of Connecticut and Florida where this is also a big problem. MPs have colonies all over the United States, but some pose no conflict, like the ones in a New York cemetery and Harold Washington (formerly Hyde) Park in Chicago.

“People love the parrots because they’re cute, but they stop being cute when they cut off your power,” she said. “One man I met hated them because his wife was on life-support at home and the parrots’ nests caused power outages.”

Gardeners with fruit trees and bushes aren’t fans, either.

“But they’re so delicious!” countered Tootie. “Can you blame us?”

Seeing as how these raucous, outrageously green residents are probably here to stay, even though they are considered a non-native, invasive species, it seems Reed’s research results will be important to creating ways humans and parrots can peacefully coexist.

If you would like to follow Reed’s results and see her pictures, go on Facebook and search “monk parakeets Dallas.”

Do you know someone MYN should visit? Adults, kids, friends, co-workers. All suggestions welcome. E-mail and let us meet your neighbor.

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