Wild Quaker Parrots of New Orleans
Native to South America, Quaker Parrots (also known as Monk Parakeets) have spread throughout the country, thriving in urban areas. New Orleans has had these birds since the 1960s, and they're a common sight all around the city.
I've been lucky enough to live next door to a favorite perching area- a dead tree that makes a perfect lookout, and dozens of birds come and go throughout the day. Watching (and hearing them- they're quite loud!) inspired me to find out more about these playful, colorful parrots.
(All photos taken by and property of the author)
About the Quaker Parrot
Just the facts, m'am.
Countries of origin: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
So how’d they get to Louisiana? Good question. Theories include: Hurricane Betsy destroyed a pet store, allowing them to escape, a mishap at JFK airport freed a bunch of birds and they migrated over time, and owners accidentally or intentionally released them into the environment. Everyone has a favorite theory, but they can now be spotted in big colonies all over the city.
Coloration:Green/white split in the wild- breeders have also crossbred a blue/white split
How’d they get their name? They became known as “Quakers”; because they appear to have a white apron on, similar to the ones worn by the religious sect of the same name.
Size: up to a foot high (considered a “medium”; parrot)
Weight: about 1/4 lb
Lifespan: 15-30 years
Learn More about Quakers
Habits of the Quaker Parrot
For one thing, these are the only parrots who build big, freestanding nests. How big? Multi-family nests with multiple rooms for each couple! Working together, flocks put together these complicated constructions and keep them maintained using sticks and any found objects they can get their beaks on.
In the wild, they build on cliff faces, but in the urban landscape they often choose electrical poles, which becomes a big problem for everyone. The nests are very heavy and between the weight and overheating they cause, there’s a very real danger of fire and blown transformers. As a result, most cities will have the nests removed before they’re far along. This photo shows the large nest they’ve built on Magazine Street at the Radio for the Deaf station. As long as it’s not effecting the signal, the station is happy to coexist with the parrots. It’s the closest nest to my house, so I’m pretty sure this is where the parrots in my photos live.
Quakers are very social, easy going parrots, even going so far as to share their homes with other breeds of birds. Curious and playful, they’re considered one of the most intelligent birds, so it’s not very surprising they’ve adapted to life in the city. New Orleans has lots of food growing in yards to keep them happy- figs and papaya are two of their favorites. Weather here never gets cold enough for them to be uncomfortable- although these adaptable parrots thrive in northern cities as well.
They form very strong bonds with their mate, and you rarely (if ever) see one bird on its own, which is also a safety issue. New Orleans does have red tailed hawks which hunt the parrots, and you never know when a stalking cat is sneaking up on you, so it’s always best to have a lookout around to sound their alarm. Once that alarm has sounded, you’re not likely to miss it! Their calls are very very loud- once you know what to listen for, you’ll always know when Quakers are around.
Wild Quaker Nest
I sharpened this so you can see some of the openings, but this is a massive communal nest in a local radio station’s antenna.
I checked with them, and as long as the nest doesn’t interfere with their transmission, the station doesn’t have a problem with it being there.
Parrots in our Backyard
These guys were hanging around, and I noticed the one was more interested in figuring out how the top of the feeder worked than going through the normal channels. This isn’t unusual behavior for these playful parrots who love to solve puzzles to get what they want!
The quality’s not great because I was up on the second floor, and trying to be quiet (which made me sound like I have a 2 pack a day habit- sorry!), but you can see him trying to work it out.
This poor guy was a regular at the feeder, and the only bird who came alone- once Quakers pair off, you pretty much never see a single parrot.
It’s likely this parrot lost his mate, but he soldiers on.
Can Quakers be Tamed?
Quakers are a popular pet parrot, because they’re friendly, excellent talkers, and comparatively inexpensive because they breed easily with up to a half dozen eggs per clutch. They are wonderful little guys, but also a lot of responsibility.
Before you consider adopting, there are many issues to seriously consider.
- Are legal where you live? They’re considered pests and outlawed in several states due to concern that they’ll escape into the wild, reproduce like crazy and strip the crops bare.
- Time and attention: Quakers need hours of social interaction every day, and can become very difficult if kept as a single bird in a busy household that can’t provide it.
- These babies are LOUD. Even happy parrots will make lots of noise- particularly at dawn and dusk, which is when they’d be leaving and returning to their nests in the wild, but an unhappy, attention starved parrot can achieve eardrum blowing levels.
- Health & well being:Aside from being rough on your ears (and those of your neighbors- they are not good apartment neighbors!) not getting enough attention is bad for their health. The way they get their sense of safety is through their flock- and if they’re not in the wild that means YOU, their family. If they’re left without the support they need, they can start to rip their own feathers out, are prone to infections and stress related illnesses.
In short, if you don’t have a lot of time, and a lot of patience, parrots are not the pets for you.
- Oh, let’s not forget money. If you’ve never dealt with the ongoing maintenance a parrot requires, you’re in for a shock. Yes, these birds are small, but if you make the mistake of buying a chain-store cage you’ll hear an amused chuckling coming from your new baby, followed by the sound of that inferior cage being peeled open like a banana.
A proper cage will run several hundred dollars, healthy food easily $100 month, and their annual vet visit will make you wonder if you’re paying to put the doc’s kids through college.
Does that sound harsh? I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I’m not, and it’s a crime that parrot buyers aren’t told what ownership means, particularly with a bird that needs so much attention. Unfortunately, there are far too many of these babies abandoned, dumped into shelters or simply let go into the wild.
A happy Quaker is a joy to behold- chatty and playful, mischievous and curious, and a fantastic companion, but having a healthy, secure bird doesn’t happen by accident- and if you decide you have the love and the time to give, please try adopting before buying from a breeder- there are always dozens available through rescues and petfinder.com.
In the end, personally, I decided these wild parrots were better left wild. I will always love watching them at the feeder and all around town, but after evaluating my own household’s needs and those of a Quaker, I realized that being a voyeur was going to be better all around.
Cutest Thieves Ever...
Quakers will grab everything they can & try to nest with it
This owner supports his parrot’s nest building and documented it, but on the parrot discussion boards are all kinds of amazed stories about the latest thing the little criminals stole to build with!
mplo28 on July 16, 2017:
Wow!! Thanks for a wonderful article! As a parrot owner myself, I got a real kick out of reading this.
William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on August 17, 2014:
What fun! Beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I love learning new things. ;-)