By Dave Coulter
I'm certain that many of you have seen Monk Parakeets in your local wanderings. A couple years back I was amazed by the sight of maybe a dozen noisy bright green birds chowing down hawthorn berries in Scoville Park. It was one of the most stunning nature sights I have ever seen. Maybe it was because the birds were so close and seemingly oblivious to my presence? Maybe it's because it seemed so odd to see a flock of parakeets period when it was twenty degrees out and snow on the ground?
But Monk Parakeets are not universally loved. They are an introduced species, and therefore generate mixed opinions about their value in the environment. Friends over in Berwyn told me about a big colony that existed - and maybe still does - in their town. After my sighting I hadn't thought much about these avian novelties until today when I saw this story in Conservation about our local flocks. The essay points out the latest understandings about the population changes for this bird.
My take on this is that yes, the bird may be an invasive species, but it doesn't seem to be breeding uncontrollably in our region. I remember reading somewhere that the Monk Parakeet now occupies a niche that was formerly held by the now extinct Carolina Parakeet. I don't know how true that is, or if that is an example of one bird leaving and another arriving that happen to have similar appearances.
I have an old bird guide that - along with 19th century era admonitions not to damage the environment - contains illustrations of some now extinct species. It seems like the Carolina Parakeet was on the ropes even then, and done for by 1918. So now we have the Monk Parakeet in our environs, for better or for worse. They seem to be vigorous, but maybe winters here in Chicago are just a little too harsh for a tropical looking bird. I guess time will tell if they grow to become a curse - winged buckthorn, if you will - or if their numbers hang around that 778 mark.