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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Last of the Parakeets

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!

6 comments:

Birdie said...

What a loss...if people only knew how incredibly special these little birds are! Take a look here: http://www.budgieresearch.homestead.com/
and you'll wonder how these little guys can get sold for $10 at pet stores. Some of my best friends are budgies....

Trevor the Twitcher said...

They certainly are beautiful. We've had wild budgies in our garden here in Murray Bridge, South Australia.

Nigel Nix (Budgieman) said...

That is really sad to hear.
I suppose it hits bird lovers more than other people. It would be a pity to see these birds die out.
The photo made me a little depressed but the story made me aware of a situation I didn't know existed.
Thank You.
Nigel

Anonymous said...

Thank "God" they are dying out. If people only realized how much money is spent annually in this state to get rid of noxious exotic species like this and many others they would be elated knowing that one of them is apparently on the way out. Now if we could just get Australian pine, Brazilian pepper and about 300 other exotic species to disappear from the face of Florida..........

J. "Kyron" Hanson said...

We're a rare breed, you and I. In that we fully embrace introduced exotic bird populations as part of the avifaunal community (which they are). I've just begun to delve into investigating the current budgie situation in FL. I hope some are still there.

Kenney F. said...

I'd love to see a project to save them.Another ambitious project would be to introduce a population of Jandaya parakeets there. Sort of like my thought of introducing GPC's to New England. One can dream of Carolina Parrots in Florida. Can't one? All too sad (expirtation that is)!

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