Date: May 14, 2019
Source: University of Chicago Medical Center
When Stephen Pruett-Jones, PhD, an ecologist at the University of Chicago, first came to Chicago in 1988, he stumbled on a unique piece of the city's history: the monk parakeets of Hyde Park.
The squat, bright-green birds aren't native to Illinois, or the United States at all. The U.S. originally had two native parrot species: the Carolina parakeet and the thick-billed parrot. The Carolina parakeet is now extinct; the thick-billed parrot, a Mexican species that ranged into the southwestern states, was driven out of the U.S.
In the 1950s and 60s, tens of thousands of monk parakeets were imported from South America as pets. Inevitably, many of them escaped or were released. By 1968, they were found breeding in the wild across 10 states, including a colony in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, home of the University of Chicago campus.
Pruett-Jones, who usually studies wrens and other wild birds in Australia, noticed a large group of the parakeets on his daily commute. He started sending students out to study the birds and eventually organized an annual lab project to count them.
"I have never actually held a wild parrot in the United States," he said. "But indirectly I've become the spokesperson for parrot research here because when I saw the monk parakeets in Chicago, I realized nobody else was working on them."