More than 150 Non-native Bird Species!Unlike iguanas, Nile Monitor lizards, giant boas and pythons, the numerous species of non-native birds living and breeding in Florida do not frighten residents. In fact, the increasing numbers of non-native birds on the loose here have not caused much of a stir. Some of these birds are quite lovely to look at, and most seem to enhance the tropical atmosphere of our unique state.
However, there are more exotic species of birds living in Florida than any other kind of animal. And these birds are foreign wildlife so their growing populations are contributing to imbalances in our fragile ecosystem. The numerous and expanding species of exotic birds found in the skies and waterways of Florida do not belong here. These birds belong in their natural habitats in South and Central America, Asia and Africa, rather than in the lakes and canals, marshes and backyards of suburban Florida.
Most of the exotic birds on the loose here are parrots of various types. In fact, there may be a greater diversity of wild parrots living here than anywhere else in the world! Wildlife biologists have documented at least 30 parrot species living and breeding in South Florida. All of these parrots are former pets and the offspring of pets. None of the parrot species we see in the wild here are native to Florida.
The Monk Parakeet and the Red-crowned Amazon are two of the most common exotics seen in our state. Monk Parakeets are friendly pets, but once they escape to the wild they avoid humans in favor of travel in large boisterous flocks. They build huge nests from sticks on lamp posts and electric transformers, sometimes causing power outages. The Red-crowned Amazon is an endangered bird in its native Mexico due to habitat destruction and the pet trade. The popularity of this extremely intelligent bird with pet owners has contributed to its extinction. Yet, you can see these bright parrots in the palm trees of South Florida. Flocks of both of these parrot species can decimate gardens and crops, consuming huge quantities of fruits, berries, flowers and seeds.
The Muscovy Duck is another exotic species found in great numbers around the state. These large black and white ducks with bumpy red facial masks can breed as many as 3 times a year with 10 to 20 eggs per clutch. These ducks are big and they outcompete Florida’s native ducks for food and territory. Muscovy Ducks will mate with other species, creating hybrid ducks with an as yet unknown place in our ecosystem.
Peking Ducks, various species of swans, and other beautiful water birds imported to “decorate” neighborhood lakes and ponds have proliferated wildly. Some of these birds have become pests due to overbreeding and a tendency to poop all over yards, docks, pool decks and sidewalks.
New species of pet birds on the fly are regularly discovered to be breeding here. The Common Myna from Southeast Asia lives in some southern and central Florida cities. These birds flock to fast food restaurant parking lots, where they eat trash out of garbage cans. Purple Swamphens were once kept as yard pets. Now thousands are breeding in the marshes of South Florida. All of these exotic species displace our native birds, competing for food and territory.
Parrots are loud, they are messy, they bite, and they live a long time. It is tempting to let them “go free” in Florida, where they can survive and thrive. Pet swans, ducks and other non-native water birds will not remain isolated on your neighborhood lake or in your backyard, as the juvenile males will leave to seek new territory where they can raise their own families. Pet owners must be aware that giving pet birds their “freedom” is cruel to them and bad for the environment. It is important for us to take responsibility for each and every pet choice we make.
What You Can Do About Exotic BirdsOccasional news reports site mass killings of Muscovy Ducks in parks and on lakes around the state. Parrots have been shot, and Purple Swamphens were killed in large numbers in a failed attempt at mass extermination. Such measures typically do not work with foreign invaders. By the time exotic animal populations are large enough to attract our attention (and, for some people, hostile disdain), it is already too late to eradicate them.
Exotic animals are protected by animal anticruelty laws. Rather than killing them off, a more humane and effective measure is the practice of population control. Here’s what you can do:
Small parakeets like budgies make good pets for children. They are sweet and docile and not too loud. Large parrots do not make good pets. They are unhappy in confinement and may bite. If you have a parrot or other exotic pet bird, do not let it loose. Check out the details about Exotic Pet Amnesty Days hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: www.myfwc.com. Find a home for your bird if you no longer are able to care for it.
Next time your children ask for a new and exciting pet bird, you can buy them a book instead. Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida explains in simple words and photos what your children need to learn about the consequences of exotic pet ownership in our state. The book also serves as an excellent reference for identifying the most common non-native bird species.
Click here to view a really cool trailer!