Miami Living Loves South Florida's Green Happy Parrots
Updated: Apr 22
Those little green parrots flying over our heads have become a distinct South Florida trademark. They are cute, loud and very active. But how much do you know about them? Well, here is everything you need to know about these remarkable birds. A special thanks to Amy K. Taylor, Frank J. Mazzotti and Michelle L. Casler for their work and insights.
Parrots and parakeets are popular household pets because of their colorful plumage, easy care, and remarkable personalities. But, within the last few decades, experienced as well as backyard bird watchers have noticed parrots and parakeets flying free in South Florida's cities and suburbs. These gregarious birds are easily recognized in the wild by their raucous calls, large heads and extremely heavy bills. Their flight is swift with rapid, shallow wing beats and virtually all have a certain amount of green in their plumage. Parakeets are distinguished from parrots by their smaller size and long pointed tails. The gaudily colored, long-tailed Macaw is the largest of the species. They can reach a length of over 3 feet (1 meter).
Range and Habitat
Parrots are found throughout the tropical regions of the world. Their range is from the Southern Hemisphere to the tropical and subtropical parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Southern Asia, Africa and South and Central America all have native populations of parrots. The Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) was the only parrot native to Florida and is now extinct. None of the parrots occurring in Florida today are native. They have been accidentally introduced as a result of the pet trade.
Parrots in South Florida
Parrots and parakeets are not migratory, so, in almost every case, the species that occur in Florida are those that have been imported for the pet trade. Many of the world's tropical countries allowed commercialization of their birds and in the 1960's and 1970's, the Miami area became a major importation center. Many exotic birds escaped in great numbers at the point of entry, while others escaped in smaller numbers from pet shops or from their owners. Over 20 species of parrots have been observed in South Florida. Large populations of rose-ringed parakeets, monk parakeets, canary-winged parakeets and budgiergars have become established. These and other members of the parrot family, Psittacidae, are rapidly establishing breeding populations in South Florida.
Normally, plants and animals do not do well when introduced to a new environment, but some species of the parrot family have been extremely successful and have continued to expand their numbers in the wild. Their success can be partially attributed to Florida's mild climate and changing landscape. Subtropical Florida now contains many elements of the world's tropics.
In South Florida's urban areas native plants have been largely replaced by exotic vegetation. Instead of native shade trees, such as gumbo limbo or live oak, exotic fig trees and Australian pines line city streets. Non-native plants from the tropics, popular for their showy flowers or edible fruit can be found in virtually every backyard. With the introduction of non-native plants from the tropics, the ecological stage was set for the establishment of parrots and parakeets. Various kinds of parrots and parakeets have successfully adapted to urban areas. Many have no problem finding the same kinds of plants they once roosted in or fed upon in their native countries. Also, there are a few competitive factors, such as predators, diseases or parasites, to limit their reproduction or life spans.
Behavior & Reproduction
Parrots and parakeets belong to the order Psittaciformes. Nearly all species dwell in trees and they feed on fruits, nuts and other vegetable matter. Their varied diet contributes to their success in southern Florida. If one component of their diet is not readily available, they will easily substitute another for it. Their toe arrangement (two toes face forward and two face the rear), allows them to manipulate their food with their feet. Parrots are agile climbers and will use their heavy beaks and clasping toes to move from branch to branch in search of food. Because these brightly colored birds are so popular as pets, backyard bird watchers are delighted when they are visited by them and contribute to their success by feeding and protecting them. Captive parrots are famous for their mimicry, but, parrots in the wild seem to make little or no use of their vocal abilities beyond uttering typical calls and cries to co-ordinate flock behavior. Parrots are gregarious and they usually will roost and feed together in a flock. This flocking behavior gives them additional protection from predators and offers them a larger number of potential mates. Without the instinct to flock, caged birds which are released will eventually die off before they can reproduce.
Parrots and parakeets roost or feed together in pairs or flocks. They nest in unlined holes in trees, termite nests, rocks, or banks. Several Australian species nest on the ground and the Monk parakeet builds colonial nests of twigs in the branches of trees or on power line transformers. Each pair of parakeets has its own private compartment, but the entire flock seems to be on intimate terms. The nest is used as sleeping quarters all year round and is added to from year to year until at times it breaks the supporting branches or lines.
There are concerns that agricultural areas and remaining areas of natural ecological communities may suffer harmful effects. Some of the more common species are considered agricultural pests in their native countries. The rose-ringed parakeet is considered to be one of the most destructive agricultural pests in India. Monk parakeets are serious agricultural pests in Argentina and have damaged power lines with the weight of their huge colonial nests. Why more problems have not been reported in South Florida fruit groves is not known. If larger populations develop, however, parrots could become a threat to Florida's crops. The natural ecological communities in South Florida are vulnerable to non-native invasion. Exotic parrots and parakeets might out-compete native bird populations for food and space. A common characteristic of successful non-native invaders is that they are more aggressive than their native counterparts. For example, many parrots and parakeets build their nests in the cavities of dead trees. Tree cavities are limited in number in suburban areas. Increasing populations of psittacids may harm native hole nesting birds when they are pushed out to make room for non-natives. Courtesy of and special thanks to Amy K. Taylor, Frank J. Mazzotti and Michelle L. Casler. For more info visit UF University of Florida, IFAS Extension