This boisterous and beautiful parakeet is endemic to Hispaniola. Although it once also inhabited Mona Island (and possibly even mainland Puerto Rico), by 1950 it was extirpated there. Its plumage is bright green with a red border along the curve of the wing. A wide white ring encircles the eye. The tail is long, and thus is easily distinguished from the Hispaniolan parrot’s short tail. The native Taínos called them xaxabis. Their great flocks and aggressive temperament did not go unnoticed by the first chroniclers: “Ten of these xaxabis can attack one hundred of the higuacas (parrots) and disrupt them, and never in peace do they join them.” Unlike their parrot cousins, they do not learn to imitate human speech, which makes them less desirable as pets.
Perico, the Spanish word for this parakeet, has also given rise to some common Dominican idioms. For instance, people may say that someone who is being very talkative must have eaten perico soup. In another case, perico ripiao is the name of the most traditional form of Dominican merengue. Although the direct translation would be “shredded parakeet” – and, undeniably, parakeets have been served as food –this term is actually believed to have its origins in a popular brothel in Santiago de los Caballeros. In the early 1900s, upbeat merengue dance music, based on drum, güira and accordion, was commonly played there. As the story goes, the female workers of this establishment used the phrase “shredding a parakeet” as a euphemism for serving a client.
As with parrots, Hispaniolan parakeets nest in cavities, usually in hollowed out tree trunks. Their diet of grains and seeds, makes them an important seed disperser, vital to maintaining and regenerating our natural forests. Parakeets can live in a wide diversity of habitats, although currently they are most common in our mountain forests. Once, long ago, parakeets formed giant flocks, comprising thousands of birds, but today it is rare to see a flock with more than 50 birds. For this reason, our parakeet is currently considered to be vulnerable to extinction according to the IUCN’s Red List and in danger of extinction by the National Red List. Their decline is mainly due to the destruction and degradation of our forests, as well as to many decades of hunting, since farmers once considered them to be crop pests, especially around corn fields.
“It is an extraordinary sight to see a flock land on a tree and watch the branches come down with the weight of their bodies.” Anabelle Stockton de Dod
“The other mid-size species are what they call xaxabis. They are much greener and have a few red feathers; They are very mischievous and restless, they are bullies, they bite and become more angry than others; although they never learn any human speech, no matter how much they are taught, they are very squeaky and talkative in their natural conversation.” Fray Bartolomé de las Casas
Recently, populations of parakeets in some cities have been increasing, especially in Santo Domingo. In fact, one of the most spectacular roosting sites is just outside Hotel El Embajador, in the heart of the capital city, where thousands of parakeets congregate each evening at dusk in the branches of two great Indian almond trees, filling the air with their raucous crik-crik-crik-crik, clak-clak-clakclak calls. Regrettably, in this case, the large flocks are at best a mixed sign of hope. The origin of these urban parakeets is the would-be Parrot owners who have been fooled into purchasing a parakeet chick–and who then released the adult parakeets in the city when they tired of their incessant high-pitched screeching.