Aliens

Exotic animals and plants are crisscrossing the globe as never before. Many of these unwelcome species have found their way to the Chicago area and are wreaking havoc on our local ecosystem.

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NAME: Monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)
ORIGIN: South America
DATE INTRODUCED: Late 1960s
HOW IT GOT HERE: Escaped from O’Hare

As the story goes, the owner of an exotic-pet store released a crate of these Argentinean parakeets at O’Hare because he lacked proper permits. (Variant: The birds simply escaped.) Whatever happened, by the late 1970s monk parakeets had taken up residence around Hyde Park, much to the delight of former mayor Harold Washington, who considered them good-luck omens. Doug Stotz, a conservation ornithologist at the Field Museum, says these gray-hooded bright-green birds may be cute but “they’ve become pests in their own right. They’re seed predators, and they damage crops in agricultural areas [in their native South America].” In urban areas, the birds can be nuisances: They’re incessantly vocal in the daytime and build nests around electric transformers, increasing the risk of fires.

THE FIGHT: In the early 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured about half the wild monks in the United States, but the population has since rebounded. Attempts to capture or kill the parakeets here have been unsuccessful because of political pressure by animal-rights groups and bird lovers.

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