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Escaped Domestic Parrots Threaten Native Birds in New Zealand

Kaka Bird

According to a recent projection from the University of Auckland, New Zealand’s delicate ecosystem is under threat from the growing numbers of escaped and released exotic birds. The study, presented at  the 2022 Australasian Ornithological Conference, suggests that there is a high likelihood that an individual exotic escapee can be reasonably expected to find another of its species. This is significant. It means that these birds are populous enough to establish breeding populations in the wild which can potentially overwhelm native birds in competition for resources.

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Why are Invasive Species Dangerous?

Invasive species are a major issue worldwide. They are an especially potent threat when it comes to birds. In Hawaii, for example, invasive species have been a major contributor to a concerning trend of avian extinctions and conservation crises.

Invasive species are often introduced via the pet trade. They pose a serious threat because they do not belong to the region into which they’ve been introduced. They often have very few predators because the predators in the region have not adapted to hunt the introduced species. So, they are able to breed readily and can quickly overtake the native species, many of which are simply unequipped to compete with the invaders. Invasive species also have the potential to introduce pathogens for which native populations lack the invaders’ immunities.

This phenomenon affects both flora and fauna worldwide, however Australia and New Zealand are particularly vulnerable. Due to their separation from the earth’s other large landmasses, Australia and New Zealand have a unique array of wildlife existing within a delicately balanced ecosystem. Invaders to this ecosystem are capable of enacting devastating damage. One example of a dominant invasive species is the Cane Toad. Cane Toads are prolific and, due to the toxins that their bodies produce, largely invulnerable to Australia’s predatory animals.

Monk Parrot
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

New Zealand’s Parrot Problem

So how do parrots fit into this? As many as six percent of New Zealanders own birds, with the vast majority of these being parrots. With an estimated average of 331 exotic birds that are reported as lost each year, many parrots are added to New Zealand’s invasive population. For the birds of New Zealand, parrots are a growing problem, and one that they simply cannot afford. Forty percent of New Zealand’s birds are already considered endangered.

Fortunately, New Zealand is prepared to take action. Unlike the invasive Rosella Parrots which are already widespread throughout New Zealand, other invaders are not quite so established. Beginning in September of 2022, a number of exotic parrot species will be banned to own as pets in Auckland. This includes Ringneck Parakeets, Rainbow Lorikeets, and Monk Parakeets. Banning problematic exotic birds is just one facet of a plan which is intended to address this threat before native species experience the full scope of the projected danger. Conservation experts worry, however, that regional efforts will fail unless a solution is implemented nationwide. Exotic pet owners in New Zealand, and worldwide, are urged to never release a pet bird, and to do whatever possible to ensure that exotic pets don’t have opportunities to escape captivity.

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