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Science and Environmental Education

Monk Parakeet Project Web Page

Brooklyn College students have enjoyed a unique opportunity to study a colony of wild South American Monk Parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) that have established residence on campus and the nearby community. This growing population has survived their accidental introduction and continues to build their characteristic nests among the field lights and utility poles around the campus.

As graduate students working toward our Masters Degree in the Brooklyn College Science and Environmental School of Education we attempted to learn what we could about them through direct observation and Internet searches. It is our goal to share our findings, in order to promote a better understanding of the biology, behavior and environmental impact of this exotic species.

Wild Parrots Roaming Brooklyn ?

The Quaker Parrots or Monk Parakeets were first introduced to the New York area when they escaped during transport from John F. Kennedy Airport in 1968 (Levine, 321). Throughout the area, we have noticed an increase in the number of birds and nest structures. According to Enrique H Bucher, a leading researcher on Argentinian Monk parakeets, very little scientific research has been done on their biology, ecology and behavior.(Monk Parakeet Research Web page). How they were able to survive, despite so many changes from their original habitat, intrigued us, and we set out to make some discoveries.

First, we compared the live birds to descriptions in the Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds (178), to verify their correct identification.

Next, the students assigned to our group were curious about their large stick nests. These of these rounded twig structures are located on campus, intertwined among electrical cables and equipment. The resident colony of Monk parakeets meticulously care for the nest, which may support many individual compartments.

The close proximity to the electrical equipment, we assumed that they depended on the heat radiating from these structures. From our initial library search we discovered that the monk parakeets native habitat of temperate South America , including Argentina, has a seasonal climate similar to New York (Levine, 321). Assuming that these electrical heat sources were beneficial, but not crucial to their survival and discouraged by our lack of ability to compare the temperatures of air outside and inside the nests, we switched the focus of our research toward a noninvasive census.


We articulated our current project around the following question.

Does the number of nest openings correlate to the number of birds living in the nest? Since most species of birds have monogamous pair bonds with their mates (Kress, 52), we hypothesized that one male and one female would occupy each chamber. According to one source, Monk Parakeets nests have one mated pair to each chamber (Perrins, 271). The next step was to observe the nests on campus.


binoculars, video camera, watch, paper and pencil, field guides

map of Brooklyn College campus and neighborhood

Discussion of Early Problems

We modified our procedure as we noticed the need to better define our criteria. As we started, our group found that we were unclear about how to count the birds, for each had developed their own definition of what was "at" the nest. Some counted birds only inside the nest, while others included all the birds within at few feet from the nest. This inconsistent data was disregarded and after regrouping, we decided how to account for birds joining and leaving the nest. With this refined operational definition we were ready to start our new observation plan. We used binoculars and video cameras as visual aids.




1. Each student in our group located nest sites and documented our study area on a map.

2. Each student observed one or two nests in our area for approximately one hour for at least three session. We used binoculars and video cameras as visual aids.

3. Count the number of entrance holes in the nest.

4. Estimate the height and size of the nest.

5.Only birds that were inside or touching the nest were included in the count. Parrots that sat for flew nearby were not counted. Parrots that arrived or departed were accounted for. The highest number of birds seen on or inside at one time was the final census for that session.

6. We sketched the nest to more closely observe the details of the nest structure and relationship to the utility wires.

7. We averaged the total number of birds for each nest and recorded the results on a graph to compare.


As you can see, some of the nests averaged more than two birds per opening, while others had less and still others were observed to have the predicted number of birds. The graph illustrates that there is no obvious correlation between the number of inhabitants and the number of entrances.

Why, we asked, was there a discrepancy in our data ? We realized that there were many reasons that our numbers did not seem to make sense. Behavioral research on wild animals requires an enormous amount of data and consistency on behalf of the researchers due to the unpredictable nature of animals and the seasonal changes that affect them.

However, after returning to our library search we found that the fledged juveniles of some species stay to assist their parents with the care of the new eggs and chicks (Kress, 54). If this is the case, the additional care would help to insure the success of each new clutch, while the helpers gain valuable experience in building their large, stick nests and care of the young.

More research is needed

Our group learned some important lessons during our study of wild monk parakeets. Wildlife research requires a lot of time, consideration, debate and revision. These are needed to generate the ideas and theories that we take for granted from books and educational shows. We have certainly developed a greater appreciation for the work of wildlife scientists and volunteers who have developed their observation skills to see the subtlest nuances in animal behavior.

Due to the recent arrival of these birds, there is a rare opportunity for scientists, animal enthusiasts, college students and children to see the growth of a possible new sub-species so close to home.

The time to start this inquiry is now. More research on their adaptations to temperature, local predators, seasonal food supplies, pathology, impact on established birds, population growth, social interactions and cooperative reproductive strategies, nest building, longevity, migration, and genetic bottle necking can also be compared with information on South American populations.

To learn more about monk parakeets try these resources and observe them for yourself.

Lesson plan:

Aim: What can we learn by watching wild monk parakeets in our neighborhood ?

Skills: Math: To count birds and nest openings, estimate size and height of nest t compare and chart different behaviors.

Standards: National Science Education Standards, Content Standards for grades 5-8.

Content Standard A: Ability necessary for and understanding of scientific inquiry

Content Area C: Reproduction and heredity, Regulation and Behavior, Populations and Ecosystems, Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms.



Follow up:


Sources cited:

Levine, Emmanuel ed., The Birds of New York State, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1998.

Kress, Stephen W. Bird Life, Golden Press: New York, 1991.

Perrins, Christopher. Birds Their Life, Their Ways, Their World, Reader's Digest: New York, 1979.

Peterson, Roger Tory. Peterson's Field Guides Eastern Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1980.

Peterson online: Petersononline.com



Additional Sources:

Audubon: www.audubon.com/wnindex.htm

Alterton, David. The Atlas of Parrots of the World. TFH Publications, October 1991.

Athan, Matte Sue. A Guide to the Quaker Parrot, Barron's Educational Series, September 1997

Forshaw, John. Parrots of the World. TFH publications, October 1978

Hyde Park Parakeets, http//:student-www.uchicago.edu/jmsouth/intro.html

Higdon, Pam. The Quaker Parrot: An Owners Guide to a Healthy Pet:IDG Books Worldwide, April 1998.

Howell Book House: The Essential Quaker Parrot. IDG Books Worldwide, October 15, 1999

Murray, Peter. Parrots Naturebooks Series, Child's World , August 1978


Group members: