Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What are Wild Parrots Doing in Brooklyn?

There is much mystery surrounding the appearance of these unusual birds in Brooklyn. I’ve heard some wild stories – sinking ships abandoned aviaries, pet shop owners going berserk – but the most reliable explanation is that the wild parrots that are here today are descendants from an original flock that came to Brooklyn in the 1960’s.
Who Let The Parrots Out? – The Kennedy Airport Escape Theory
The theory that has the greatest credence among ornithologists is that a shipment of parrots destined for sale at New York area pet shops was accidentally released at Kennedy Airport in the late 1960's (1967 or 1968). This incident was referred to as early as 1971 in an article by ornithologist John Bull.

This release was not documented at the time. The only documentation I've run across is anecdotal. The story is that a crate from Argentina was opened by accident and the birds escaped. This may have happened as early as 1962, but a separate report mentions 1967 of the parrots' "great escape."

The birds did not turn up immediately in Brooklyn (the earliest confirmed sighting here in the early 1970's), it is likely that the birds survived in the park lands surrounding Kennedy airport, and later made their way to Brooklyn College. 

There are other theories. Some say that a pet store on Flatbush Avenue went out of business and released the parrots in the 1980s. One intriguing story is that the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, after many years of hosting a captive flock of monk parakeets, abandoned these birds to the skies after closing its aviary, but the JFK airport escape theory is the one that I believe is most reliable.

The Argentinian Connection
More than 60,000 wild parrots of this type (Myiopsitta Monachus) were exported from South America to the U.S.A. during the 1960s and early 1970s. Exporting the parrots became a preferred method of bird control after a lethal control method involving a bounty system became rife with fraud. At the same time, Quaker Parrots were becoming popular cage birds in the U.S.A. Pet bird enthusiasts said that they offered “Big Parrot Personality in a Small Package.”

Several escapes happened at airports where USDA Quarantine Stations were sited, notably New York and Chicago. Today, Monk (or Quaker) parakeets comprise the largest group of the nine species of parrots known to live in the wild in the United States.

Wild Parrot Control Issues
The Quaker Parrot is an adaptable species noted for its creative approach to nest-building. Quakers are the only kind of parrot that can build free-standing nests almost anywhere – in cliffs, trees, power transmission poles, steeples, radio towers, etc. They are the master architects of the bird world, their nests can get big, and sometimes the adaptations they perform can interfere with human use of these structures. This is why many people view them as a nuisance and why utility companies must repeatedly dismantle their housing.

In New York, Con Edison, whose wild parrot control policy is comparatively moderate, has expressed a willingness to consider new ideas from private citizens and avicultural experts that might provide a better solution for accommodating the competing interests of humans and avians. It is my hope that such research might continue - and not be blocked (as it is in New Jersey) by the fact that the monk parakeet continues to be classified as a "potentially dangerous species," a designation that makes it impossible to fund research on humane solutions.
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