As a native of South Florida, making the transition to living temporarily and birding in Brazil was in some ways easier than say, moving here from the Midwest. For one, I am fairly accustomed with Latin American culture having grown up in Miami, a city where the vast majority is Hispanic. By Alex Harper.Secondly, the climate I left behind in Florida in mid-September was comparable to that of my destination (stifling hot and uncomfortably humid), the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso. And lastly, I found that several of Florida’s denizens – both native and nonnative to the Sunshine State – also resided in Mato Grosso.

The State of Mato Grosso is rather large, 1.3 times the size of Texas. The capital of this large state, Cuiaba, serves as an important destination as a starting point to reach the Pantanal just to the south and the Amazon farther to the north. The Pantanal, an open mosaic of gallery forest, wetlands, and rivers, offers a diametrically opposed experience to the densely vegetated and biodiverse Amazon. In both of these regions, comparisons with the avifauna in South Florida can be found.

I first experienced this in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland. What may initially strike you about the Pantanal is the biomass and the size of the organisms. Waders, caimans, and capybaras are everywhere. The odds are that any fencepost or tree has a hawk, Southern Caracara, or party of Guira Cuckoos taking up shop. The place is teeming with in-your-face fauna, evoking a resemblance with Florida’s Everglades. And like the Everglades, you can expect to see some of the same birds – albeit in much higher numbers.

Birds we like to consider “specialties” of Peninsular Florida are in abundance: Snail Kites, Purple Gallinules, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, and Limpkins – birds that are quintessential targets for visitors to Florida – are at every available water source. The Smooth-billed Ani, a bird barely holding on in North America as a rare and declining South Florida resident, is like a House Sparrow in New York City. Examine even further and there is another parallel with Florida’s avifauna: the shared Psittaciformes. It is through examining the distribution and behavior of several of the parrots and parakeets in Brazil that helps to explain their successes in areas where they’ve been introduced to North America.

Rather easily, you can see several parakeets in the Pantanal that are introduced to and breeding in Florida. Among them are the widespread and successful Monk Parakeets, Nanday Parakeets, ABA-eligible Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, White-eyed and Blue-crowned Parakeets. These five birds appeared to be the most abundant and adaptable parakeets in the northern Pantanal and are rather comfortable around human habitation here. With the exception of the Nanday, these same species are some of the more widespread species of the fifteen or so Psittacids breeding in the Miami area. The Nanday Parakeet can be found in cities and agricultural areas north of Miami, and it is now considered established on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

In order to understand the mixed bag of South Florida’s parakeet and parrot populations, you’ll need to take a look at the vegetation of its neighborhoods. It has open suburban neighborhoods with a range of tropical native and non-native trees, more sparsely vegetated urban neighborhoods, and also some older neighborhoods with thick, mature tree canopies. The distribution of many of the parrots in Miami appear to subtly align with similarities of the plant composition and cover within their native ranges, and elaborating on that, relationships of species that cohabitate in both Brazil and Miami can even be found.

Being that the Pantanal has mostly low tree cover, it is no surprise that these species also inhabit the less-vegetated neighborhoods of Miami. Monk Parakeets are most common in open neighborhoods with shorter trees. Both Monk and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets can be found in very open agricultural areas of southwestern Miami, an area with no other parakeets. Interestingly, Blue-crowned and White-eyed Parakeets are often found together in the same area of northeastern Miami and Miami Beach. Food for thought: it is more likely that their distribution has more to do with their initial location of introduction, but could there also be a bit of small-scale habitat partitioning on the part of these parakeets?

In other words, are these Brazilian birds as well as other introduced parrots finding areas of Miami’s various neighborhoods that more resemble their South American niches?

In other words, are these Brazilian birds as well as other introduced parrots finding areas of Miami’s various neighborhoods that more resemble their South American niches?

Miami even has small breeding populations of two of the Amazon’s most successful macaws: the Chestnut-fronted and Blue-and-Yellow. These two species are remarkably comfortable in both vast primary Amazonian forest and in forest fragments. In Miami, the Blue-and-Yellows are found in the old-growth neighborhoods of Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, where the tallest, most “rainforest-like” habitat occurs. Chestnut-fronted Macaws, on the other hand, are most populous in the same region that the most White-eyed Parakeets occurs. These two are also frequently found cohabiting in their home ranges.

South Florida has a reputation for its number of introduced animals, but many of our cultivated plants are also exported in from the American tropics. Nonnative figs, Schefflera, silk floss trees and a variety of palms make up for much of our urban and suburban plant composition.

Many of the trees that these birds feed on and nest in throughout their native ranges have been brought to South Florida, and the similarity in climate has allowed both the plants and parrots to find a foothold in this small corner of North America. In a city like Miami that has a distinctly Latin American feel, it’s almost fitting.

With my time in Brazil coming to a close, I already have plans on returning. I’ll soon be back in Miami for the holidays. Just a few blocks from my home is a Brazilian bar that I frequent. The bar, Boteco, has an open courtyard facing a row of palms. Occasionally in the evenings, White-eyed and Blue-crowned Parakeets stage in the palms before they fly off to roost for the evening, serving as constant reminder to revisit their homeland sooner rather than later.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *