Nest-building behavior of Monk Parakeets – Author Interview

Today we published a new study describing the nest-building behavior of Monk Parakeets. This work suggests that intervention during the earlier stages of nest building, by excluding Monk Parakeets from electric lines adjacent to poles, may be an effective, non-lethal method of reducing or eliminating parakeets nesting on, and damaging, utility poles.
We invited the first author, Kevin Burgio, to comment on his research and his experience publishing with us.

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

KRB: I am a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut where I study the distributions and biology of parrots found in North America (historically and presently). In my spare time, when I’m not hanging out with my daughter, I also research parasite diversity and distributions, and the macroecology of birds and mammals.
imagePrior to college, I spent six years in the US Air Force working as a combat medic and dental hygienist, and also worked for three years in a public health dental facility. I originally planned on becoming a dentist, given my background; however, I developed a neurological disorder which causes my hands to shake uncontrollably. Given limited options, I decided to forego treatment and change career paths in the middle of my undergraduate degree. After taking an ornithology class with my coauthor and current PhD advisor, Dr. Margaret Rubega, I decided to study birds and we’ve been working together ever since! 

Credit: Chris Field

PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ ?

KRB: Monk Parakeets, and their nests, have created quite a controversy in the US and other places they have naturalized in the past 50 years. Just the other day, I read in The Guardian that the United Kingdom has spent about £260,000 over the past few years to capture just 60 Monk Parakeets and collect a bunch of their eggs in efforts to get rid of their relatively small population.
Monk Parakeets are the only parrot species that builds their own nests out of sticks, and for reasons we do not yet fully understand, have been building these nests on electric poles. These nests can cause fires and power outages, and managing this problem is costly for electric companies. Past aggressive management (trapping and euthanasia), has led to protests and lawsuits aimed at protecting these birds despite the fact they aren’t native.  As an undergrad, I read about this controversy in newspaper articles here in Connecticut, and figured that if we just knew enough about their behavior, we could find a way to prevent the nesting on these poles, which would mitigate the conflict between the electric companies, their customers, and those concerned with the welfare of these birds.  This research is an important step in reaching this goal, since it identifies a behavior that may be key to preventing the parakeets from nesting on the poles.


Credit: Kevin Burgio

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about this research?

KRB: Watching and recording bird behavior is harder than it sounds. During my first “field season”, I went out to collect data for this project in the middle of a very cold November. I spent a few weeks sitting in my car, watching for nest building in these residential neighborhoods while trying to stay warm. At one promising pole, I parked my car and waited for 4 or 5 hours for birds to start renesting, but they never came. Apparently, I had left my lights on, and my car battery died. I had to call a tow truck to jump my battery, and imagine how nervous I was, sitting outside someone’s house with a car full of binoculars, scopes, notebooks, and cameras. The mechanic jumped my car and I went on my merry way. A few weeks later, the same exact thing happened pretty close to where the original incident happened. The same mechanic came to jump me again. I was mortified! I am surprised he didn’t call the police. To make a long story short, I did not record a single observation in three weeks. That was my first real taste of science.

PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?

KRB: Other researchers have done great research exploring how to deal with the problem posed by Monk Parakeet nests; however, what surprised me the most is that no one had thought to just watch the parakeets build their nests on utility poles before! It was clear after watching them building their nests for a short period of time what seemed important to them. Our results confirmed our initial hypothesis, which we formed only after an hour or two of observation.

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

KRB: I think it is important to highlight the role of basic scientific research, and how it can have direct real-world applications. For such a costly and problematic conflict between birds and people, that has been a problem for more than a decade now, it seems a win-win solution came down to a couple of biologists, sitting in a car, watching and recording these parakeets do what they do.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?

KRB: Taking this research to the next step, Dr. Rubega and I are currently working with a Connecticut utility equipment manufacturer, MidSun Group Inc., to create prototypes of a device that block Monk Parakeet access to the electric lines near the poles. We plan to experimentally test the efficacy of these devices in partnership with a local electrical company.

PJ: Why did you choose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your article?

KRB: I believe that peer-review is an under-appreciated, yet critical, part of science. I haven’t published many papers yet in my short career (this is my third!), yet each time, the reviewers and editors had a huge impact on the finished product and their hard work made each paper stronger. Allowing anyone to see how this manuscript benefited by the peer-review process gives the reviewers and editor credit for the job they did, which would be otherwise hidden behind the scenes. 

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

KRB: One of the faculty in my department is an Academic Editor over there (Dr. Chris Elphick) and he and I have talked off and on about open access publishing over the past year or two. His enthusiasm for PeerJ, coupled with a great paper you recently published by one of my fellow UConn PhD students (Lily Lewis), were key in the decision to submit this paper to you.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about your overall experience with us? Anything surprising?

KRB: The most surprising thing that happened in my experience was that the Academic Editor actually apologized for taking about a week to give us a decision about our first revision! A week! I have another paper in review right now that took almost six months just to get our first decision. All said and told, our paper went through two revisions and will still be published just a little more than two months from the initial submission date. I find that amazing.

PJ: Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?

KRB: Most definitely. The ease and speed of the process really allowed me to spend more time doing research, rather than fussing around with format changes and etc. Also, the research money I would have spent on publishing fees elsewhere will now be used for actual research. From my experience, publishing with PeerJ has been more efficient, more cost-effective, and just as thorough.

PJ: Many thanks for your time!

Join Kevin Burgio and thousands of other satisfied authors, and submit your next article to PeerJ.

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