Pesky parrots

A wildlife expert is warning that an invasive species of parrots — the rose-ringed parakeet (or Indian ringneck parrot) — which can amass flocks of up to 700 could become significant agricultural pests in Jamaica if their rapidly growing population remains unchecked.

These birds, which are already nuisances in other countries, are now posing a similar problem in Jamaica and tend to favour crops such as gungo peas, citrus, and corn.

According to president of wildlife advocacy group Birdlife Jamaica, Damion Whyte, the birds, which were introduced into Jamaica via the lucrative exotic pet trade, travel in huge flocks and normally swarm crops to consume them.

Whyte told the Jamaica Observer that, while there are several species of invasive birds in Jamaica, the rose-ringed parakeet, which has native ranges in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, is the breed which is of most concern to wildlife advocates.

“In a number of countries, in Europe and some Caribbean countries, when they escape they become established, [after which] they form big flocks compared to our native parakeets — the Jamaican parakeet — with flocks of up to 30,” said Whyte.

He noted that these invasive birds, which breed much faster than the native parrots and are larger than them, sometimes escape from pet owners, while other people may intentionally set them free because they are unable to properly care for them.

“In a number of countries they have become agricultural pests. Here they are not agricultural pests yet, but we are tracking them and we ask the public to provide information to the National Environmental Planning Agency (NEPA), Birdlife Jamaica, or via all my social media pages @roostersworldja when they see them,” added Whyte.

He said the information provided should include where the birds are seen and what they were doing as this will assist NEPA, Birdlife Jamaica, members of the birding community, and researchers at The University of the West Indies in developing a suitable management strategy.

Whyte said that a major concern he has is that when these invasive parakeets become a major problem and begin destroying crops, people may lay the blame on local birds and might kill them, noting that, “if you are not an expert it is not easy for you to identify them”.

The body of the ringneck parakeet is bright green and has a distinctive ring around its neck which is usually dark in colour, with the adult male possessing a red and black neck ring. For those bred in captivity, the ring may have colour mutations including turquoise, olive, white, blue, violet, grey and yellow.

Whyte said that the invasive species has the potential to keep expanding as they flourish in urban and deforested areas.

“As the flocks get bigger…they have the potential to be a major agricultural pest if measures are not put in to control them…In some countries they cull them, but [doing this] becomes tricky in Jamaica because many Jamaicans believe parrots are pretty and if you do the right thing as an environmentalist in culling them, then people will get upset and say you are wicked,” he said.

Whyte said that another reason the situation has to be dealt with urgently is that, if the ringneck parakeets are released after being part of the pet trade, chances are they may have a disease which can be passed on to other birds in the wild.

He is particularly concerned about diseases from these invasive birds being passed on to birds which are native to Jamaica, which include the endangered yellow- and black-billed parrots.

Other invasive species of birds introduced through the exotic pet trade, which are also becoming nuisances in Jamaica, are the yellow-naped amazon or yellow-naped parrot that inhabits the Pacific coast of southern Mexico and Central America, and the great-tailed grackle or Mexican grackle, native to North and South America.

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