Pets or pests?

South Amer­i­can mer­i­can quaker par­rots are in­vad­ingding Madrid


They may be cute, color­ful and chatty, but South Amer­i­can quaker par­rots have taken up res­i­dence in Madrid and other Span­ish cities, ir­ri­tat­ing res­i­dents with their shrill squawks and desta­bil­is­ing the ecosys­tem.

The small, bright green and grey-breasted birds — also known as monk para­keets — first ar­rived in Spain in cages as en­ter­tain­ing pets, but some ei­ther es­caped or were let loose, get­ting their first taste of free­dom in the green, leafy Span­ish cap­i­tal — and then pro­lif­er­at­ing.

Maria Moreno, who lives in the Los Carmenes dis­trict in south­west­ern Madrid, said she first no­ticed them sev­eral years ago.

A pair of par­rots chose the area as their home, and en­joyed it so much that there are now a dozen para­keets who fight among them­selves and com­pete for food with pi­geons, spar­rows and mag­pies.

“The noise and mess they make is aw­ful,” she says, adding “and they uri­nate on cars,” as she watches the par­rots fly to and from trees along her road.

Some dis­tricts of Madrid, as well as parks such as Casa de Campo or the Re­tiro, are full of the birds which orig­i­nate from Ar­gentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bo­livia.

They build com­mu­nal nests that weigh up to 50 kilo­grams, mostly in trees — they fa­vor cedars — but also in elec­tric py­lons.

In or­der to do so, the par­rots tear thou­sands of branches off trees, at times leav­ing them nearly bare.

“It causes a sig­nif­i­cant de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the health of the tree, and some dry up,” says Blas Molina, an ex­pert at the Span­ish Or­nitho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search by the so­ci­ety, there were around 20,000 quaker par­rots— called so for their bob­bing and shak­ing— in Spain last year, many of them in Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga on the south­east coast.

Other Euro­pean coun­tries such as the United King­dom have also seen an in­flux of monk para­keets.

Paris, Rome and Lon­don mean­while have large colonies of ring-necked para­keets, which come from Asia and Africa and are also deemed ag­gres­sive to­wards other birds.

Jose Luis Postigo, a re­searcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Malaga and an ex­pert on quaker par­rots, about which he is writ­ing a the­sis, says the species is “very adapt­able”.

It can live in a warm coun­try like Spain, as well as in the colder climes of Brus­sels or Chicago, adapt­ing by build­ing thicker nest walls.

Clas­si­fied as an in­va­sive species, Span­ish au­thor­i­ties are al­lowed to take mea­sures to cull them, and in 2011 sales of the bird were banned inthe coun­try.


A monk para­keet (myiop­sitta monachus) also known as the quaker par­rot flies in Atena park, Madrid.

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