BOULDER, Colo. –
The original version of this story contained an error: Although the state regulation was updated March 1, monk parakeets have been a prohibited species since 2002.
A tropical bird with an affinity for surviving in places it’s not welcome is causing a stir for one Boulder County breeder, and shedding light on a little-known state law banning the ownership and sale of certain pets.
Charles Higbee, 37, was cleared by animal control officers and state wildlife officials Tuesday after being investigated for owning and breeding monk parakeets in unfit conditions.
Brandy Perkins, an animal control officer for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, said officials were tipped off about the birds last month by a real estate agent who found a shed packed with the bright green chatterboxes. The agent was concerned the birds had been abandoned without food or water, and were living in a coop filled with feces.
An investigation revealed that Higbee was in the process of moving to a new house, and has since set up appropriate living conditions for his 23 birds, Perkins said.
Higbee said Tuesday that the birds are now being kept in conditions “appropriate for that species,” and that he has more than 20 years experience breeding the birds as his personal pets.
“They’re very well taken care of,” he said.
But in the course of investigating Higbee’s case, animal control officers came upon a state regulation they didn’t know about that bans breeding of the parakeets, which are hugely popular pets around the world.
The law, which was updated March 1, defines the birds as “detrimental to existing wildlife and their habitat in Colorado,” and restricts ownership to only those who can prove they had the animals as of Sept. 1, 1990, or through special permission.
Because the ban is relatively unknown, the Sheriff’s Office opted to warn Higbee not to breed or sell the birds â rather than confiscating them.
“They are illegal now,” Perkins said. “(Higbee) was not aware of that, as most people aren’t.”
Enforcing the Colorado Division of Wildlife regulation â which sets out more than 20 invasive species not to be kept, sold, transported or bred in the state â is tough.
“Yes, they’re illegal, but there’s sort of a caveat: They’re known the world over as Quakers,” said Julie Murad, CEO and founder of the Gabriel Foundation, a Denver-based nonprofit parrot rescue and shelter.
The Quaker parrot is not specifically on the state’s list of prohibited pets, but local officials say whatever people choose to call the birds won’t matter when it comes to enforcement.
Murad said she knows from experience, however, that finding the manpower, and funding, to actively enforce the regulation is almost impossible.
To date, feral flocks of monk parakeets have been found flourishing in places like Colorado, Chicago’s Hyde Park and even Vatican City.
“They’re very hardy, colonial survivors,” Murad said.
Daniel Simberloff, a professor of environmental science, ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said monk parakeets are “one of the few truly invasive species of birds.”
“They’re invasive for both agricultural reasons, and they sometimes mob other birds and steal their nests,” he said.
Other animals banned as pets by the law include: raccoons, tree or sun squirrels, prairie dogs, all species of non-human primates, striped skunks, brush-tailed porcupines, Russian boar and Gambian giant-pouched rats.