BrooklynParrots.com: A Web Site About the Wild Parrots of Brooklyn

Quaker Parrot Facts, lore, audio files, video clips, photos, pictures, photo comics, and other information about Brooklyn's flocks of wild Quaker Parrots (AKA Monk Parakeets).

Monday, March 28, 2005

Hawks vs. Parrots

A flock of wild quaker parrots flocks defensively as a hawk passes nearby
A remarkable demonstration of the monk parakeet's defensive "sentinel system" occurred on Saturday, when a red-tailed hawk flew within visual range of the Brooklyn College parrots.

Within seconds after a sharp-eyed "lookout" sounded the general alarm call, all 25 or so of the foraging birds rose in flight. A smaller group of 12, perching in a nearby tree, joined the flocking parrots, and within less than 10 seconds, all had found safe harbor in nests housed in three of the large field lights.

The hawk, still visible in the Eastern sky, continued to cruise several hundred feet above the ground on its course, which I reckon was a straight line between Prospect Park and Jamaica Bay. The parrots stayed huddled in their airey fortresses for at least 10 minutes after the hawk's disappearance, but soon small groups of four birds each began to leave the nest to pursue their interrupted foraging. I would say it was at least 20 minutes before all the birds felt safe enough to reform the large group of foragers seen before the hawk's appearance.

Alas, our audio tape recorders were not activated when the alarm call issued, so it is impossible to characterize this call aside from it being strident and obviously clearly audible to every parrot within earshot.

For more on the monk parakeet's sentinel system, see Patterns of Flock Size, Diet, and Vigilance of Naturalized Monk Parakeets in Hyde Park, Chicago, a study by Jason M. South and Stephen Pruett-Jones.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

First Parrot Tour of Brooklyn College Birds: A Success

Well, the weather was a bit nippy but there was enough sun to bring out the parrots in full force on Saturday, which meant all had a great time.

Special thanks goes to Brooklyn College's own Joe Fodor, who coordinated things for us. Thanks, Joe!

I have not yet scheduled the next trip but think it should take place sometime during the parrots' mating season, which happens in May. I'm getting some photos I took on Saturday processed and will upload them here soon.

If you're interested in an upcoming parrot tour of Brooklyn, please send e-mail to Steve Baldwin.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What are Wild Parrots Doing in Brooklyn?

Eight wild quaker parrots and a starling perch on a Brooklyn cyclone fence
What are Wild Parrots Doing in Brooklyn?
(Updated 9/12/2008)

There is much mystery surrounding the appearance of these remarkable birds in Brooklyn, but it can safely be said that they did not fly up here from Argentina on their own.

1967: The Great Escape

There are a lot of wild theories about the parrots, and they range from the odd but possible (sinking ships, overturned trucks, etc.) to the nearly unthinkable (at least one source claims that the parrots were blown to the U.S.A. by Hurricane Gloria in the mid-1980s). But 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.

Much confusion remains about what actually happened at the airport. At least one source in Brooklyn has informed me that many shipments coming into the airport were opened by unauthorized people during the 1960's: Martin Scorsese's classic film, Goodfellas, based on the memoir of Nicholas Pileggi, depicts the common practice of "crews" opening crates in order to pilfer their contents. My informant speculates that a large crate bearing an indecipherable Argentinian way bill may have been opened in this fashion. But instead of finding bottles of fine Argentinian wine, the crate opener was surprised when an unruly crowd of fully-flighted Quaker Parrots burst into the air, circled the airport, screaming, and disappeared over the horizon.

Although the escaped parrots did not turn up immediately at Brooklyn College (the earliest reported sighting was in the early 1970's), it is likely that the birds survived in the park lands surrounding the airport, and made their way in due course to the campus, where we find them today. There are other theories: that a pet store on Flatbush Avenue went out of business and released them, that a truck overturned on a highway, that an Argentinean tramp steamer foundered in New York Harbor, or 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.

More than 60,000 wild parrots of this type (Myiopsitta Monachus) were shipped from South America to the U.S.A. during the 1960s and early 1970s. Why so many? Well, the Argentinians had just spent 10 years trying to wipe these parrots out. In fact, a government-sponsored program managed to kill more than 400,000 of them in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But in the mid 1960's, someone had a bright idea: instead of killing them, why not ship them to the U.S.A. and make a few extra dollars? And so did the great influx begin - as a mass deportation of parrots to our shores (how many of our human ancestors suffered the same fate?)

The 1970s: Showdown at Rikers Island

After the escaped birds established themselves at Brooklyn College, they soon began expanding their domain. Over the years, "satellite" colonies appeared in Greenwood Cemetery, Marine Park, Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay, Bath Beach, and Bay Ridge. The parrots even tried to establish a foothold in Manhattan's Central Park, but were driven off, not by high real estate prices, but by a hostile Parks Department which feared, wrongly in my opinion, that the parrots would crowd out local and migratory birds which use the Park.

In 1973, the Federal Government became aware of the parrots' existence in the New York area, and sent out SWAT-style eradication teams which captured many birds and shot those unwilling to surrender. Captured parrots were sent to an ultra-secure location in upstate New York, where they were kept under close observation.

One fateful morning in August, the Federal eradication teams, having achieved most of their parrot suppression efforts, approached one of the last remaining parrot strongholds, a nest complex on Rikers Island, Queens. After loading their guns and preparing their nets, a forward observation team reported disturbing news: the parrots had withdrawn and evidently disappeared into the fog. After a thorough but fruitless search of the area, the eradication teams disbanded and returned to Washington.

It will never be known whether the Rikers Island Parrots were "tipped off" by "someone on the inside" that the Feds were gunning for them. But it is likely that many of the birds we find today in Queens, the Bronx, and elsewhere are directly related to the survivors of the Great Rikers Island Monk Parrot Standoff.

Illegal Avians?

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. But their success in establishing an ecological niche for themselves didn't come easily. For this reason, they are often referred to as "the world's most persecuted parrot."

Even today, these intelligent, non-aggressive birds, which no self-respecting scientist has ever claimed have caused any significant crop damage in the U.S., are regarded with extreme hostility in many states. In New Jersey and Connecticut, they are classified as a "potentially dangerous species." In Pennsylvania, they are reportedly euthanized on the spot whenever power companies find them nesting on transmission lines. In Florida, both the state Department of Transportation and the Florida Power & Light utility company do the same thing. On December 19, 2005, FPL merged with Constellation Energy Group, making it one of the largest energy companies in America, a worrisome development, given that Florida Power & Light has for years maintained secret gas chambers where captured parrots are killed en masse. If you inspect FPL's Web site, you'll be able to read one of the great lies told about these wild parrots: that they're multiplying so quickly that in the U.S.A. they're about to become a plague. In fact, the population of wild monk parakeets has stabilized, and they seldom travel very far from their base nesting locations, which are situated in suburban neighborhoods, not among wild crops. (Note 11/17/06: The page on FPL's servers containing this information has been removed).

Can Parrot and Man Coexist?

Power companies such as FPL and Connecticut's United Illuminating Company rationalize these cruel actions because their managements believe that they have no choice. They argue that humanity's need for electrical power trumps any interests that a "lesser species" such as a wild bird might have. In my view, they are missing the point, which is that it's possible to work out a way to better accomodate the interests of both species, but only if some thoughtful research is directed towards a solution. In Britain, for example, where many wild parrots now live, new techniques have been developed to insulate utility wires to thwart any short circuits or voltage drops caused by nesting parrots. In Florida, alternative nest platforms have been designed that have proved successful in luring wild Quaker parrots away from electrical power infrastructure. In Texas, utility workers will trim back nests without destroying them, which is both humane and more likely to keep the birds from "hedging their evolutionary bets" by building redundant housing and having a second brood of young, which is what these birds do when their nests are disturbed by man.

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 accomodating 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 solutions.

The fact that North America has a new parrot on its shores is in my view a blessing, especially because our countrymen wiped out our only native parrot - the Carolina Parakeet - nearly a hundred years ago. Nature has given us the rarest of gifts: a second chance.

Let's not blow it!

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Poems About the Parrots

A wild quaker parrot preens in Brooklyn
Poet Gerry LaFemina has written a beautiful poem about the Brooklyn feral parrots that will be included in a forthcoming book entitled "The Parakeets of Brooklyn" (I insist they're parrots but what would life be without a little poetic license)?

You can read LaFemina's wonderful poem at the following Web page:

http://www2.oakland.edu/english/farfield/faculty.cfm?ID=7

Now I ask you, what other "potentially dangerous species" rates the applied eloquence of bards?

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Protecting the Parrots of New Jersey



I'm an unlikely animal activist. I've kept pet parrots for years, at least when I could stay in a place that allowed them. I've watched birds -- mostly the industrious sparrows and noisy starlings that seem to live everywhere in Manhattan. But it was only back in December, during the great Hawk Nest Crisis of 2004, that I actually took to the barricades to right a wrong: the decision by the co-op board of 927 5th Avenue to evict Pale Male and Lola, the famous red-tailed hawks, from their airy nest above Central Park.

For two long weeks, I joined with a strange species of human beings I now call "Bird People" to chant, scream, yell and taunt the billionaires who'd evicted the hawks. First I lost my voice, then I got the flu, and then (for reasons unrelated to Pale Male), I was evicted from my own nest in Yonkers, but it didn't matter. The powers that be caved in, the nest was rebuilt, and the hawks came back (see www.palemale.com for the latest updates). Now it's rare that a weekend goes by without a trip to the Miniature Boat Pond in Central Park to watch these magnificant hawks go about their business.

It was a great victory. But I soon discovered that it was not enough to simply cheer the Pale Male victory, pat ourselves on the back, and enjoy the Spring. There were other nest-related struggles going on in the New York area, but because they didn't involve celebrity animals like Pale Male, they occured far below the media's radar screen.

One week in early March, 2005, I found my next struggle - one that has been going on for years in Brooklyn, Connecticut, and New Jersey - the continuing confrontation between Quaker Parrots, sturdy little escapees from Argentina who now flock merrily around Brooklyn, Edgewater, New Jersey, and the coast of Connecticut, and the power companies who must, from time to time, remove their tremendous nests from power lines, power stations, and poles to prevent power losses, brownouts, and hazards to line workers.

Now I'm hardly a die-hard animal rights zealot who believes that power authorities don't have a right and responsibility to remove these nests when they threaten to cause power interruptions. But I was shocked to learn how different each state treats the birds recovered by the power companies. In New York and in Connecticut, for example, young birds and unhatched eggs are taken to bird adopters and given refuge at parrot sanctuaries.

In New Jersey, however, because of the existence of some antiquated rules on the books, Quaker Parrots are regarded as "dangerous species," along with alligators, crocodiles, and vipers! Their classification is almost certainly a result of the mistaken impression about Quaker Parrots that they crowd out indigenous species, ransack crops, and if uncontrolled, will become ubiquitous. None of these allegations against this friendly bird are true; the worst thing that one can say about Quaker Parrots is that they're noisy (check out the sound sample I recorded last week), build big nests on power distribution lines, and don't pay taxes.

Still, in New Jersey, the fact that these birds are legally considered dangerous pests has some very unfortunate ramifications. The law basically permits, but does not require, the killing of the birds, even though there are plenty of bird adopters and bird lovers who want to help the birds. Fortunately, no birds have been euthanized recently, but the danger is clear, because they don't have any rights.

Of late, I've been working closely with a wonderful person in Edgewater, Alison Evans-Fragale, who runs EdgewaterParrots.com. Alison is working tirelessly with state officials, private businesses, and elected leaders to try to work out a way to change the way things are done in Edgewater. I encourage you to visit Alison's site and support her noble efforts to save the Edgewater Parrots by signing her online petition.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Brooklyn Parrots Speak Out!

A wild monk parrot in Edgewater, New Jersey, sounds off on a Spring day
So what do these parrots sound like? Well, BrooklynParrots.com decided to record them, and we're glad to share these sounds with the World Wide Web. Here are the files:

monkparakeetsmarch12sample.mp3
A short (one minute) sound recording taken of the Brooklyn Parrots last March. Two birds are perched about 15 feet up one of the light poles at the athletic field, their calls become intermixed with a larger group speaking vociferously from the nest at the top of this pole.

brooklyn_parrots.mp3
A longer, 11 minute sampling of the parrots as they chat, argue, signal each other, and otherwise raise a ruckus on the Brooklyn College Campus. Recorded March, 2005.

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Where Are The Brooklyn Parrots?

Three wild monk parakeets converse on their nest on Brooklyn's Avenue I



If you're interested in seeing the birds, your first stop should be Brooklyn College. Take the #2 train (7th Avenue IRT) to the end of the line, walk 1 block Southeast on Hillel Road, and you'll be at Campus Road. On an average day with no subway troubles, you should be able to make the trip from anywhere in midtown Manhattan in an hour or less.

Driving Directions:
http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/info/aboutbc/index.php?link=travel
Brooklyn College Campus Map
http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/campmap/

With a current photo ID at the ready, sign in with the courteous security person and you'll receive a Visitor Pass that you should wear on the outside of your clothing. Note: photography is not permitted on the campus without further permission.

Walk through the campus, cross Bedford Avenue and enter Roosevelt Hall - it's building #6 on the map. Your objective is the Athletic Field, and you must walk through Roosevelt Hall to access it. You must go through security again, walk the length of the hall, and exit to your right in order to get to the field.

If the weather is sunny, you'll quickly hear the chattering of multiple monk parrots. Their calls will emanate from the six tall (75-foot) field lighting arrays; if the weather is sunny and temperate, look for groups of them to be on the ground, foraging through the grass for food and building supplies.

I plan to visit the campus each Saturday for the next few weeks. If you'd like to be part of a free organized tour, please send e-mail to steve@brooklynparrots.com

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Welcome to BrooklynParrots.com

Welcome to BrooklynParrots.com. This site is dedicated to Brooklyn's wild flocks of monk parrots who've made homes at Brooklyn College, Greenwood Cemetery, along Avenue I, and elsewhere in Brooklyn.

You'll also learn:
1. Where to see the Brooklyn parrots.
2. How best to photograph them.
3. Other sites of interest to Monk parrot fans.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

About BrooklynParrots.com

Four Wild Quaker parrots on a fence in Brooklyn
Four Brooklyn Parrots talk local politics on a Saturday afternoon in September.

BrooklynParrots.com is a site run by Steve Baldwin, an author, photographer, multimedia producer, parrot fan and Brooklyn buff who's taken it upon himself to spread the word about what he calls "one of the great natural wonders of New York:" the feral parrots of Brooklyn.

Steve Baldwin runs free Wild Parrot Safaris in Brooklyn each month.
Steve Baldwin illustrates Monk Parakeet Defensive Aerial Combat Techniques. Photo Credit: Amanda Aronczyk


Steve runs free public trips to bring the public to see the parrots whenever he can; these trips happen on Saturdays. If you'd like to be part of one of these outings, please send him e-mail.

He's trying to raise the profile of these magnificent, hard-working, formerly persecuted birds. "I'm amazed at how many people living on the island of Manhattan regard these birds as urban legends", Steve says, "just like the crocodiles once reputed to live in the sewers. But these birds are real, they're thriving and yet they're also endangered. Just across the river, in New Jersey, their classification as a 'dangerous species' makes the periodic confrontations between power companies and these birds very perilous exchanges."

Steve agrees with those who see the Brooklyn parrots not as an evil "invasive species" but as a welcome replacement for the Carolina Parakeet, hunted to extinction almost a century ago. "Frankly, I think these birds deserve to be proclaimed the National Parrot of the USA", Steve says. "They have all of the great qualities we associate with the American character: they're industrious, loyal to each other, they're amazing little engineers, they coexist well with other native birds, and they just won't give up, even when the deck is stacked against them."

In 2006, with the help of students at the Touro Law Clinic, Steve formed the Brooklyn Parrot Society, a non-profit corporation based in the State of New York, to provide the public at large with information about the remarkable wild parrots of Brooklyn.

When he's not watching the parrots, Steve hangs out and harmonizes with The Meetles, New York's premiere underground Beatles tribute band. He has a full-time job with Didit.com and his title is Editor in Chief. Steve has recently tech edited several books, including Search Engine Advertising (2009), The Truth About Pay-Per-Click Search Advertising (2009), and co-authored The Eyes Have It: How to Market in an Age of Divergent Consumers, Media Chaos and Advertising Anarchy (2007), with Kevin Lee.

You can reach Steve by phone at 347.542.2264

P.S.: Steve is available to present to your bird group or parrot/pet group and has created a multimedia presentation designed to tell the story of the Brooklyn Parrots. If you have an upcoming event and you think that your audience would be interested in learning about the wild parrots of NYC, please give Steve a call.

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