"We must be serious and objective about enforcing invasive species laws, because the people of New Hampshire cannot afford and would not tolerate the consequences of not doing so."
February 17, 2011
Flap over Parrots Is Serious Business
By Glenn Normandeau
The parrots owned by some Granite State residents are a serious matter. The birds in question are monk parakeets, also known as Quaker parrots. They are an exotic invasive species with the potential to cause serious problems. It is illegal in New Hampshire to possess or import these birds -- even Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus would not be allowed to bring a single bird into the state to display. Monk parakeets have been banned in New Hampshire since 1998. It is the duty of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to enforce all laws affecting wildlife. We take that duty seriously and are working closely with these owners to resolve their issues and ensure that these birds are removed from the state.
A lot is at stake. These "parakeets" are not small birds – they're up to 12 inches from head to tailtip. They nest in noisy colonies of up to 20 pairs of birds occupying a nest, which can range in size from a couple of feet in diameter to ten or more feet. These nests are generally built on manmade structures such as electrical transformers. In some states, Quaker parrot colonies have caused costly, dangerous power outages and fires, as well as problems with the transmission of electricity. These damages are a risk to the health and safety of utility workers – and the dollar costs are ultimately borne by ratepayers. If monk parakeets were to become established in the “wild” in New Hampshire, as they have in suburban Chicago and New York City, we could count on similar problems here.
As often happens with invasive species, no one saw it coming. From 1968 to 1972, some 64,225 monk parakeets were imported into the U.S. by the pet trade. Agricultural interests soon realized that the species was a potential agricultural pest, and the bird became the focus of an eradication program by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the 1970s. Since that time, the numbers of monk parakeets have recovered and the species has exhibited a dramatic population expansion to levels far above the pre-control numbers. Though South American birds, they adapt well to northern climates.
Monk parakeets have established feral populations in 18 states, including New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Significant and costly damage has occurred in states like Connecticut, where large colonies of monk parakeets have taken up residence in dozens of locations. Based on their experience, Connecticut wildlife and utility officials strongly advised the N.H. Fish and Game Department to make every effort to prevent the establishment of a population of the bird here. The thing with captive animals is that they escape. Sooner or later, it is a near certainty; thus the feral populations in 18 states.
N.H. Fish and Game is the state agency charged with managing the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources on behalf of New Hampshire's citizens, and it is our duty to uphold the law. Conservation Officers and other Fish and Game staff care deeply about New Hampshire’s wildlife. We must be serious and objective about enforcing invasive species laws, because the people of New Hampshire cannot afford and would not tolerate the consequences of not doing so.
-- Glenn Normandeau is the Executive Director of the N.H. Fish and Game Department.