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Monk parakeets lose social standing if they take long vacations

A recent study has revealed that monk parakeets may lose their social standing if they are separated from their flock for as little as eight days. The study, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology, was conducted by a team led by postdoctoral researcher Annemarie van der Marel at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, who observed and studied three groups of captive monk parakeets in 2021 and 2022.

The researchers identified each bird’s status in the dominance hierarchy of their respective flocks by observing their interactions and quantifying their rank using networks of aggression. According to van der Marel, monk parakeets are “loud” and “very affiliative toward some members of the group but can be quite grumpy towards others.” She also noted that there is a lot of social drama among these birds.

The field crew recorded over 100,000 fights over two years of experimentation, which indicates that monk parakeets are quite feisty and fight constantly, although they generally do not have “knock-down, drag-out fights.” Rather, they are constantly squabbling, with one bird threatening to peck another, causing the other bird to flee before the interaction becomes physical. This behavior is called a displacement, and it is clear who the winners and losers are, according to Elizabeth Hobson, a behavioral ecologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Once the researchers established the dominance hierarchy in the social groups, they removed birds of different social standing for eight days before returning them and observing their reintegration to the flock. The researchers predicted that if there was something intrinsic about the bird that gave it a high rank, it should have been able to retake its former rank easily upon returning.

However, the experts found that high-ranked birds had a much more difficult reintegration into their former groups. While lower-ranked birds also experienced a decline in status, it was not nearly as dramatic as in higher-ranked birds. “The group treats them very differently,” Hobson said. “In general, when we reintroduce the top-ranked bird, the group responds with a lot of aggression towards that reintroduced bird. A lot of bullying happens.”

Hobson further noted that it’s possible that the lower-ranked birds are not perceived as a threat to the other birds’ standing, so they are not targeted as aggressively upon their return. 

Study co-author Chelsea Carminito, a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati, added that when a bird is removed, there is a power vacuum, and everything shifts to accommodate it. When that bird suddenly comes back, the birds at the top don’t want to relinquish their top rank and will defend their position.

Carminito is studying the behavior of monk parakeets to learn ways to improve their care and the care of other social birds in captivity, zoos, and research centers. “My interest is how to reduce stress in captive situations when you have to remove a bird,” she said. The findings of this study could be crucial in developing strategies to reduce stress in captive situations and ensuring the welfare of captive birds.

Monk parakeets, also known as Quaker parrots, are a species of parrot native to South America. They are popular as pets because of their social and interactive behavior, but they are also found in the wild in various parts of the world, including the United States. 

These parakeets are also known for their industriousness, building elaborate nests that can house multiple pairs of birds. The nests are made of twigs, branches, and other materials, and can be as large as 10 feet (3 meters) tall and 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide. The nests are often built on telephone poles, buildings, and other structures, which can cause problems for utilities and homeowners.

In the wild, monk parakeets eat a varied diet of seeds, fruits, nuts, and insects. They are known for their ability to crack open tough nuts with their strong beaks, and will also scavenge for food in garbage cans and other human habitats. In captivity, they can be fed a diet of commercial parrot food supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Monk parakeets are native to South America, where they are found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, savannas, and forest edges. They have also been introduced to other parts of the world, including the United States, where they are considered an invasive species in some areas.

In the United States, monk parakeets are most commonly found in Florida, Texas, California, and New York. They are also found in parts of Europe, including Spain and Portugal. In these areas, they often live in urban and suburban environments, where they build their nests on power lines and other structures.

The monk parakeet is not currently considered a threatened species, with a stable population estimated at around five million individuals worldwide. However, in some areas, they are considered pests and are subject to control measures, such as nest removal and culling.

In captivity, monk parakeets are popular pets, but they require a great deal of social interaction and stimulation to thrive. They are also prone to obesity and other health problems if not provided with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Monk parakeets are fascinating and complex birds, with a social behavior that is essential to their survival. Their industriousness in building complex nests has made them a source of fascination and frustration for humans, and their popularity as pets speaks to their charm and intelligence. However, they are also subject to control measures in some areas, highlighting the challenges of managing human-wildlife interactions.


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