Wildlife

Monk parakeets now seen as a plague in major Spanish cities

Some 20,000 birds have been counted across Spain by one ornithologist group

A monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus).
A monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus).

They were first detected in Spain in 1975, but now they have become a major environmental problem.

For the first time, Spain has seen a spike in the number of monk parakeets in urban areas. According to a survey conducted by 600 volunteers from the ornithologist group SEO/Birdlife, there are now some 20,000 of these exotic bright green birds flying free in some 450 Spanish cities.

You’ll need to spend a lot of public money to eliminate them” Juan Carlos del Moral, SEO/Birdlife

Madrid and Barcelona are the two urban centers where most monk parakeets have been detected. In the Spanish capital alone, volunteers counted 2,091 nests, putting their numbers between 5,875 and 6,643. Barcelona is also estimated to have between 5,525 and 6,248 monk parakeets.

“Of all the birds brought here, it is probably the species that has grown most in numbers,” said Juan Carlos del Moral, coordinator for SEO/Birdlife’s area of study and follow-up on birds.

And much of the problem originated with people who brought the monk parakeets to Europe as pets. They were first detected in 1975 in Barcelona, but they gradually spread within 10 years.

Despite the problem, ornithologists prefer to classify them as an introduced species rather than an invasive one.

Native to the subtropical zones of Argentina, the monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) has adapted well in similar climates found in Andalusia, Valencia and Murcia.

“These birds are not migratory but are pretty much sedentary,” explained Del Morral, adding that their expansion across the Iberian Peninsula didn’t originate from one grouping.

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The noisy birds have grown in numbers because they have accidentally gotten loose from their cages or intentionally released by bird owners. In 2013, the monk parakeet – popularly known as the “Argentinean parrot” in Spanish – was included in the list of species prohibited by law.

“They are highly visible because they adapt well in urban areas,” Del Moral explained. “The problem now are the numbers that they have reached – in Madrid alone there are more than 2,000 nests and 200 breeding points.”

But there are practically no “efficient eradication” efforts being carried out by authorities to reduce their populations.

“Now the problem has gotten out of hand and you’ll need to spend a lot of public money to eliminate them,” he said.

Even though they may look attractive, Del Moral said this exotic bird has caused “a negative impact on Spain’s natural fauna and flora.” For example, they have disturbed the nests of other birds, and have been blamed for “drying up trees” because they eat their sprouts.

English version by Martin Delfín