I’ve noticed a pattern among first-time visitors to the University of Texas’s Whitaker Courts. At first, they’re annoyed by the incessant bird chatter. However, when they look up to the stadium lights, their annoyance dissolves to pleasant surprise at the sight of gray-chested, neon green parrots swarming in massive nests.
Monk parakeets may be native to the subtropics of South America, but over the last 40 years, they’ve found a home in Austin. Although their exact origin is disputed, it’s accepted that in the early 1970s, parakeets were either released in the Zilker area or escaped their cages. Since this time, monk parakeets have experienced steady growth, but their commonality doesn’t mean they're accepted.
As non-natives, monk parakeets are not a protected species in Austin, but their nesting habits put their colonies under constant threat of removal. Nothing can be done to reverse past inhumane parakeet removals, but students can aid local wildlife organizations in protecting the species for years to come.
Unlike other parrot species, these birds thrive in temperature extremes. Their elaborate, communal stick nests provide more than sufficient insulation against Austin’s cold winters and are frequently built atop transformers and cell phone transmission towers — structures that mimic the looming trees of their native habitat.
However, the parakeets’ nesting habits have rendered them a nuisance on more than one occasion. In 2015, the birds were humanely removed from UT’s intramural fields for light renovations, displacing a colony of over 300 parakeets.
Philosophy professor Sahotra Sarkar specializes in environmental ethics and conservation biology. Regarding the nest removals, he said there is no rational basis for this practice since the species pose no true threat.
“They’re scavengers,” Sarkar said. “Except from some people who are bothered by their cries, I see no evidence that they do anything harmful.”
Monk parakeets nest year-round and, in the case of the light renovations, such disruptive habitat loss results in mass displacement equivalent to a home being wiped out by a storm. In a matter of days, birds are forced to acquaint themselves to an entirely new territory. It will take years for the parakeets to build up the colonies to their former scale.
In the summer of 2017, Austin Energy came under fire for using poles to strike and knock down monk parakeet nests. This issue, compounded with the company’s lack of concern for the parakeet’s egg-laying season, provoked enough outrage for the company to revise their practices. However, Austin Energy will continue to displace nests deemed hazardous.
Travis Audubon, the first group to notify the public of Austin Energy’s inhumane parakeet removals, advocates for bird habitat preservation across Austin. In a similar vein, the Austin Wildlife Rescue rehabilitates injured parakeets and reintroduces removed birds into the wild. Both groups accept applications for volunteers, providing students the opportunity to aid monk parakeet colonies under threat.
If we want a chance at preventing another wide scale removal, students need to join these organizations in order to influence the practices of institutions and companies that disregard the stability of monk parakeet colonies. UT’s urban campus makes meaningful experiences with Austin wildlife hard to come by, which explains why we’re thrilled by squirrels and sunbathing turtles. However, with monk parakeets we can catch a glimpse of the tropics in our own backyard — a unique experience that deserves to be preserved.
David is a rhetoric and writing sophomore from Allen.