Florida is the land of invasive species. Because of our status as a center for the importing of exotic pets and houseplants from overseas, and our neo-tropical climate, we have been invaded by everything from kudzu plants to Burmese pythons.
One of these non-native settlers is the Black-Hooded Parakeet, also known as the Nanday Parakeet or the Nanday Conure. A small parrot, Aratinga nanday is native to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. It’s diminutive size, its brash personality and its high intelligence have made it a long favorite in the pet trade–and that’s how it got here.
It’s not known exactly how and where the birds entered Florida. The initial reports happened in 1969, and centered around the Tampa Bay area and the Miami-Dade area. Both of these have ports which are major hubs for the exotic-pet import industry, so it’s conceivable that a shipment of birds could have escaped from either one of these areas, or both. In other counties, it is possible that the birds were introduced independently, by escaped or released pets. By the 1990’s, colonies of Black-Hooded Parakeets were being reported in ten Florida counties; today they have been found in at least 19 counties. In ten of these, including Pinellas County (St Petersburg area), they are known to be breeding. In areas of Florida where they are not observed to be breeding in the wild, it is presumed that the group is maintained by continuous replenishment through escapes/released pets. Individual birds can live as long as 25 years.
The birds have also established colonies, through escapes/releases, in other areas. There are breeding colonies of free-living Black-Hooded Parakeets in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, San Antonio, Texas, and in several areas of California, including Los Angeles and Sacramento. Non-breeding groups have been seen in New York City.
There is no missing a flock of Black-Hooded Parakeets. The birds are about a foot tall, with a two-foot wingspan, and travel low to the ground, in flocks of 20-30. The bright electric-green body with bluish breast and jet-black hood and beak make them conspicuous and unmistakeable, but their loud raucous continuous calls and piercing squawks usually mean you can hear them long before you can see them.
Urban Florida is a perfect habitat for the birds. In the wild, they feed on seeds, palm fruits, and flower buds, and prefer habitats at the edges of clearings and in open grasslands. Urban areas, with their parks and suburban lawns, suit them wonderfully. They nest in tree cavities, and have broods of three or four at a time. In their native wild, they are one of the few parrot species that are not in environmental danger.
So what is the State of Florida planning to do about the uninvited guests? There’s nothing it cando. The birds are already widely established and already breeding. It is expected that eventually they will spread to cover the entire state.