The state says an invasive parakeet is creating a public health hazard on Kauai, and negatively impacting the island’s economy and environment.

The rose-ringed parakeet, also known as a ring-necked parakeet, was introduced to Hawaii roughly 50 years ago.

“We did research through the Bishop Museum and discovered there was a bed and breakfast somewhere in Lawai and they brought in some rose-ringed parakeets and clipped their primaries and had them sort of hanging out free by the front porch and around the B&B. They got away from there and started establishing themselves at some point after 1968,” said Bill Lucey of the Kauai Invasive Species Committee.

“What turned out to be a novelty, and something we’d kind of entertain ourselves with while we watched them roost in the evenings, turned into a nuisance once our farmers approached us and started saying, ‘Hey, as cute as these birds are, they are very destructive to our lychee and longan crops,'” said county council member Derek Kawakami. “Increasingly we’ve been hearing more and more concerns from our farmers, our gardeners, from people who live in these neighborhoods; that unfortunately play host to these rose-ringed parakeets.”

Current estimates put the rose-ringed population at around 5,000 birds. The species is causing problems for Kauai’s agricultural seed companies, small independent farmers, backyard growers, and even condo owners.

“It’s really astounding the damage they can cause,” said Kathryn Fiedler with the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. “We’ve seen some homeowners have an entire tangerine tree stripped in one day. It’s quite extensive actually. The problem is they are birds and they bring in other diseases as well, so even if you see just a little bit of feeding it pretty much ruins the crop around it too. So they physically remove the fruit and also contaminate fruits and vegetables as well.”

Farmer Jerry Ornellas said he lost 30 percent of his crop to the parakeet, or about $6,000, in 2016.

“We definitely have the issue of food safety. These birds will land in the tops of the trees, they’ll poop and if any of their droppings gets onto the other fruit… even if it hasn’t been damaged by the birds, you have to discard that fruit. And if you ever get a food safety audit and they see birds in the trees, you’re in trouble. You’re not going to pass the audit,” he said.

The state says farmers try to use netting to protect their crops, but it’s expensive and tough to use on broad, towering trees, like lychee.

“Parakeets are what we call a slow invader actually, since they’ve been here for 50 years or so. They don’t really exhibit a fast explosion until they reach a critical mass. So for a number of years, there were 50 or a few hundred, and then over time, they reached the point where there are a few thousand and then they’re all having offspring,” Lucey said. “At that point, it becomes a very strong invasion and the invasion curve starts increasing rapidly.”

The problem is prompting various agencies to search for permanent solutions.

“I can only speak for myself and some of my colleagues that we have recognized this is a problem and we’re looking toward a collaborative effort between county, state, and federal governments,” Kawakami said. “It is going to be an ongoing issue. We don’t want to see this thing turn into another coqui frog, where we could have addressed it early, before it turns into some kind of catastrophic event.”

Officials say if the birds fly higher into the mountains and begin impacting native plants and watersheds, the damage could be catastrophic.

“Right now, they’re in the lowland areas of Kauai,” said Thomas Kaiakapu, branch manager for the DLNR Division of Wildlife and Forestry. “But if they start to move into the upland mountains, that’s a concern for us, because that’s where most of our native species thrive. Left unchecked and uncontrolled, the parakeet population here could explode to more than 10,000 birds in the next five years.”Information from the Department of Land and Natural Resources was incorporated into this post.