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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.

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

Poems About the Parrots


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?



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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What Do The Brooklyn Parrots Sound Like?


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.

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

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.