Sunday morning, I joined birding friend, Florida bird distribution guru, and birdfinding guide author Bill Pranty in searching for the last of the Budgerigars that have been established north of St Petersburg, Florida since the 50s. Once numbering over 20,000 birds in the 1970s, these parakeets are now restricted to a population of less than 100 birds in two locations.
The short of the story is that these birds seem to be on their way out. We drove around the same roads in Hernando Beach for almost 5 hours without seeing or hearing any of the small green birds. They are apparently loosing the nest boxes that they depend upon--both to rising House Sparrow populations, and to removal by new residents.
Finally, when we were about to give up, we spotted three birds flying into a tree in a front yard on Gulf Winds Circle (check out Bill's photo of the "last" three wild budgies in America). While 38 Budgerigars were reported here on the last Christmas Bird Count, it didn't bode well that it took us so long to find the birds, and that there were only 3. For all we know, we could have just seen the last of the parakeets. If you haven't seen these birds, now is the time to go. They could disappear at any time.
As an introduced exotic species, probably nobody is going to lift a finger to save this population--which is really a shame. I'm usually not one to advocate supporting exotic bird species, but driving around the suburban neighborhood where they live, its clear that they would add much to the otherwise unremarkable urban avifauna of House Sparrows, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Eurasian Collared-Doves. The budgies nest together in small bird houses--like miniature Purple Martin colonies. With a coordinated effort, maybe we could see large flocks of budgies once again lining the power lines on US Hwy 19 like migratory swallows.
Later in the day, we were able to find only one budgie in the territory of the Pasco County flock--the only other known location for these birds. Flying back to Pennsylvania on Sunday night, I had visions of a great community project, with scouts and others making attractive little budgie boxes and educating people about how to help the budgies by removing House Sparrow nests. I could see thousands of budgies once again roaming these neighborhoods, which can never be what they were eighty years ago (coastal saltmarsh), but could well regain what they had thirty years ago--flocks of perky green Australian birds bringing joy to residents and visiting birders alike. It was a much more pleasant vision than the more likely scenario, where nobody does anything for these birds, they disappear, and nobody ever bothers to fly down to Florida to go birdwatching in Hernando Beach again!