Parakeet mobs, octopus moves, and other curious phenomena

As cities contend with flocks of invasive species, scientists learn from octopuses’ limber limbs and develop ethereally lightweight solar cells.

It seems incongruous: fluorescent-green tropical birds totally at home in a park in Hesse, Germany (pictured, above). Are they fugitives from a tearoom or a pirate ship? No—just opportunistic avians that escaped or were released into the wild and quickly multiplied. 

Rose-ringed parakeets, native to South Asia, were sold as pets until trade in wild birds was banned in the U.S. and Europe. Now they and monk parakeets have gone from pet to pest in Hawaii, California, and Florida, as well as in Europe (where rose-ringed parakeets number more than 85,000) and the Middle East. “They are very lousy pets, to be honest,” says Assaf Shwartz, a conservation biologist in Haifa, Israel. “They’re noisy; they bite. Owners get tired after a while.” They destroy crops, menace native birds, and are displacing a threatened bat species in Spain. Monk parakeets’ bulky nests on utility lines have caused power outages.

Eradication campaigns in the Canary Islands and the Seychelles have paired the trapping and shooting of invasives with advocacy in communities to promote native bird species. Still, any effort to thin the parakeet population can be controversial. After all, says British biodiversity conservationist Jim Groombridge, “people love parrots.” 
—Amy Alipio

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