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Nanday Parakeets

Photo by Stan Tekiela

by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

May 13, 2024

I think we all have heard about the issue with non-native species and how they can interrupt a habitat. There are many examples of this in both plants and animals. One of the big problems in the plant world is European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). It is a small tree that is native to Europe and northwest Africa and western Asia. It was brought here by people to be planted as an ornamental tree and has exploded across the country, growing in all sorts of habitat and crowding out the native trees and shrubs.

There are also some non- native mammals that were introduced to North America that are considered a major problem. The Norway Rat or Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) is a good example. Contrary to its common name, it most likely originates from the plains of northern China and Mongolia. When it was named back in the 1500’s it was incorrectly thought to come from Norway. This animal has spread around the world and has been the cause of disease and contamination of food. If you have ever seen a large rat, especially on farms, no doubt you are seeing this non-native rat species.

We have countless non-native insects also. One that jumps to mind is the Asian Lady Beetle. Similar to our native Ladybugs, the Asian Lady Beetle was introduced on purpose to North America to control aphids in agricultural crops. It quickly spread across the entire country in just a decade or two. Many believe our native beetle is now extinct or nearly so.

In the bird world, there are several prime examples of non-native birds being introduced to the United States. The European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) and the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) are well known, widespread and generally hated by most bird watchers. I often ask people who bring up their dislike of starlings and sparrows why they don’t like them. The response I get is because they are “not native”. When I inquire deeper, they don’t have any other reason other than the status as a non-native bird. When I point out that Ring-necked Pheasant are also not native I don’t get the same hatred, presumably because they like the looks of the pheasant.

So last week while leading a photography tour of southern Florida, we spent some time photographing an absolutely stunning bird. A large green parrot-like bird, about 12 inches long, with a dark hood and bright red ring of feathers around each leg. They are amazing looking birds, and everyone was thrilled to capture some stunning images. While we were photographing, I explained to the group that these birds were not native. They casually asked how they got to Florida since they are native to the south-central part of South America, many thousands of miles away.

These birds were trapped and sold in the pet trade and people purchased them from a pet store. When they realized that the birds needed a lot of care and they tended to be very loud, and demanding, a lot of people just released the birds. Well of course the newly released birds found each other and did what comes naturally and they started to reproduce. Now large flocks of these birds fly around places like Florida, Arizona and Texas.

But what I found the most interesting is that no one seemed upset that these beautiful birds were not native. There was no outcry of disdain and dislike for these magnificent looking birds. And that is exactly the problem. We as people often use our emotions and often are quick to judge something without any background information or education.

Because this bird is beautiful, elegant and pleasing to look at we think it is ok and it doesn’t matter if it is non-native or not. We simply like it. We often don’t consider the scientific or biological ramifications of a non-native bird on a given ecosystem. Nanday Parakeets often out compete with other birds for local food sources. Their diet consists of seeds, fruits, nuts and berries, the same food source for other birds.

While looking through my long lens while photographing, I noticed the parakeets spent a lot of time feeding on the seed heads from low growing flowers. Native ground birds such as Ground Doves would be a good example of a native species that would now need to compete with the parakeets for the seeds produced by these flowers.

I guess my point is, native verses non-native species is a tricky subject. It is important we don’t let our emotions get in the way of sound, reasonable and scientific decisions. Nothing is simple and has clear black-and-white answers in nature. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels extensively to capture images of wildlife. He can be followed at Instagram.com and facebook.com. He can be contacted via his website at naturesmart.com.



The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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