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Ever questioned your sanity wondering, “Is that…a large parrot perched on that palm tree?” The answer to this rhetorical question is likely, yes, it is indeed an exotic parrot and not a figment of your imagination. FIU Tropics Ph.D. Candidate Josh Diamond explores the effects of invasive bird species in South Florida.

Diamond studies specific bird species that use cavity nest webs which are, as the name implies, networks that link together different species of birds through their use of tree cavities for roosting and breeding. Woodpeckers are a keystone bird species and the only types of birds capable of building these cavity nests. Expertly crafted by woodpeckers, the nests are deep holes inside of trees that provide nesting spaces not only for the species that built them but also for an array of bird species who are secondary cavity users. Unfortunately for native South Florida bird species, their crafty engineers and native secondary cavity users are being kicked out by invasive bird species.  

Two species of cavity-nesters have already become completely extinct, and several more have become locally extinct or rare, creating a growing sense of urgency around the issue. Diamond’s research with the South Florida Terrestrial Ecosystems Lab within our Department of Earth and Environment is centered around the competition between native and exotic cavity-nesting birds in South Florida. In an effort to avoid further extinctions, he investigates which invasive species pose the largest threat to cavity nest webs, which native species are the most vulnerable to a declining number of cavity nests built by woodpeckers, and the types of trees that invasive species gravitate toward. So far he has found that European Starlings and Common Mynas appear to be the most aggressive, but that Orange-winged Parrots are successfully taking woodpecker cavities as well.

“The European Starling is one of the most invasive birds in the world. They have invaded parts of North and South America, Australia, Africa, and the South Pacific. They are about the same size as a Red-bellied Woodpecker, but are more aggressive, and can usually dominate this woodpecker and take their cavities,” warns Diamond.

In addition to conducting research in several parks within South Florida including the Everglades, Diamond inspects cavity nests along South Florida streets and private yards. His research highlights the fact that these ecological interactions aren’t only something that happen in isolated wilderness, but in the developed areas where we live and work.  

Learn more about Diamond’s research.