Browsed by
Tag: White-winged Parakeet

American Parakeets: Changing Tunes?

American Parakeets: Changing Tunes?

White-winged Parakeet, 5/25/2012, Miami Shores, Florida. Photo by Andrew Spencer

A couple of years ago I wrote about the importance of recording exotic birds in the places where they’ve been introduced, not just in their native ranges. Recording exotics is important for several reasons, but I put particular emphasis on this one:

Most birds with learned songs are apparently genetically predisposed to pick out the sounds of their own species from the chorus and imitate those, but if they’re first- or second-generation immigrants in an avian Babel, they might not have many, or any, of their own species to learn from. Might the scarcity of conspecific tutors restrict the repertoire size of immigrants? Might it force them to innovate or imitate other species?  We don’t really know.

Now, preliminary evidence is pointing toward an answer, and that answer appears to be “yes.” In at least one species, some individuals sound different in their adopted country than do their ancestors back in the homeland.

Yellow-chevroned and White-winged Parakeets in Florida

These two small South American parakeets are closely related — in fact, they were until recently considered a single species, “Canary-winged Parakeet.” They look and sound quite similar, and where both species occur in south Florida, they sometimes hybridize.  As a result, their status and distribution in Florida have been somewhat difficult to tease apart.  I’ve heard from a couple of sources that White-winged used to be the more common of the two species in south Florida, but has declined in recent years, while Yellow-chevroned has increased.

The vocal differences between these two species have not been well described. Like all parrots, White-winged and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets give complex and varied vocalizations.  One common sound from both species is a mellow, musical, multi-syllabic chirp, which averages slightly higher-pitched in Yellow-chevroned:

The more distinctive sound of these species is a noisy chatter.  In its native range in South America, the chatter of White-winged is significantly slower, with each individual note clearly audible. The chatter of Yellow-chevroned is much faster, with the notes run together into a continuous churr:

Here’s the rub. In south Florida, at least some of the Yellow-chevroned Parakeets sound quite a bit like White-wingeds:

The differences are subtle, and there are a lot of birds in this recording (it was a roost of over 200 individuals), but the sounds here seem consistently closer to “classic” White-winged than to “classic” Yellow-chevroned, in both the pitch of the chirps and the speed of the chatters. The majority of sounds are intermediate. There might have been a couple of White-wingeds hidden in the flock, but the observers, Andrew Spencer and Carlos Sanchez, didn’t see any White-wingeds or hybrids — only apparently pure Yellow-chevroneds.

It might be that the Yellow-chevroned Parakeets of south Florida have come into contact with White-winged Parakeets and learned some of their vocalizations. I wouldn’t be surprised if parakeets in a flock gradually changed calls to be more like those of their flockmates; similar behavior has been documented in a number of species of cardueline finches. There may also be some mixed ancestry involved, even if none was evident in plumage patterns. It’s hard to say.

What’s clear is that there’s no guarantee that feral exotic birds will sound exactly like their wild ancestors. That’s why it’s important to record them where you find them. Exotics are everywhere: lovebirds in Phoenix, magpie-jays in San Diego, Rose-ringed Parakeets in Bakersfield, Nutmeg Mannikins in Pensacola. It’s time we started paying more attention to what they’re saying.


Florida, Part 1: Recording the Exotic

Florida, Part 1: Recording the Exotic

Purple Swamphen, Pembroke Pines, copyright Andrew Spencer

Exotics tend to have a bad rap among North American birders.  They’re either disparaged, or more often, ignored entirely.  This is a bit of a shame – they’re not “bad” birds, so to speak.  It isn’t their fault they’re introduced to places far from their home range.  But something about them makes them slightly distasteful to the majority of us.  And I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve fallen into the same boat.  I’ve even flatly refused to go up into the Ruby Mountains of Nevada to twitch Himalayan Snowcock.  But when I was offered the chance to go to Florida to get recordings of a number of target species, including exotics, I jumped at the chance.

Part of that was a chance to go to Florida, which offered the largest block of birds I haven’t recorded before.  But I’ll admit I was a bit curious to record exotics as well.  Almost nobody has spent effort on documenting their vocalizations in their introduced ranges, and it would be a challenge.

So what follows below will be the very first earbirding trip report, of my trip to Florida.

A goodly portion of my time was spent in the, ahem, noisy environs of Miami getting recordings introduced species.  Some of these will be very familiar to the ABA birder: Red-whiskered Bulbul, Budgerigar, or Common Myna, for example.  Others have received some press recently, but tend to fly more under the radar: Purple Swamphen, Mitred Parakeet, etc.  And some very few people ever even think about: Egyptian Goose, Indian Peafowl, even Red Junglefowl.

Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) have become quite common in southern Florida.  They can be surprisingly hard to hear, though – during the day they tend not to make too much noise, and they usually occur in very urban areas.  But a pre-dawn spent in a deserted parking lot in Kendall got me some good cuts of their cool songs:

Hill Mynas (Gracula religiosa) are the cooler, bigger cousins of Common Mynas.  Not only do they have looks going for them, they are probably the coolest sounding exotic in Florida.  Here are a couple of recs of a pair duetting at Matheson Hammock:

Hill Myna, Matheson Hammock, copyright Andrew Spencer

Recently getting some press for their remarkable expansion into the wetlands of South Florida are the big ugly cousins of Purple Gallinule, Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio).  In their native range they’re known as raucous, noisy birds, but in Florida they are surprisingly quiet.  I had to work on this species for a while before I found a pair that would vocalize, but when I did I was able to get a good representation of their repertoire:

Parrots feature prominently in the introduced avifauna of Florida.  Parrots are the perfect birds to record in noisy urban environments – they tend to be gregarious, fairly easy to find, and LOUD.  That is a huge advantage when having to deal with lots of background noise.  I was able to get recordings of a number of species, established and not so established.  Some of the species below are ABA countable (like White-winged Parakeet (Brotogeris versicolurus) and Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)), but are actually fairly local and hard to find to nearly gone, while others that are not yet countable (like Mitred (Aratinga mitrata) and Nanday (Nandayus nenday) Parakeets) are much more well established:

Budgerigar, Hernando Beach, copyright Andrew Spencer

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) is a surprisingly common introduced bird that most ABA birders haven’t even heard of.  Luckily they’re quite noisy:

Egyptian Goose, Key Biscayne, copyright Andrew Spencer

Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) has gotten a lot of attention due to the fact that it’s ABA countable.  But despite this, it is actually quite a bit harder to find than many non-countable exotics.  It is also rather difficult to get recordings of, and the best ones I managed were of a juvenile bird.  I did also manage to get one recording of call from an adult, but no song.

Red-whiskered Bulbul juvenile, Kendall, copyright Andrew Spencer

Stay tuned for part 2 of the trip report, which will follow in a few days…