Photo-Essay: The Wild Parrots of Bay Ridge
Leif Ericson Park is a 16-acre public park packed with lots of recreational facilities for humans, and plenty of wild parrots (notice the large stick nest built on the utility pole in the background).
Note: 7/26/06: Since I wrote this essay last year, I upgraded my camera, got some much better pictures of the Bay Ridge parrots and created a short sequel called "Squawking at the Moon: The Wild Parrots of Bay Ridge." Enjoy!
Leif Ericson was a pioneering Norwegian explorer who discovered America many years before Columbus, so it's only fitting that the Brooklyn Parrots chose Brooklyn's Leif Ericson Park to establish a pioneering avian community miles to the west of their original colony in Midwood.
Both the precise date of the parrots' arrival in Leif Ericson Park and the means by which they found it remain a mystery. One correspondent reports that the parrots have been in Bay Ridge for the last four years, but it's possible that the birds set up camp earlier and weren't identified for some time.
So how did they get to Bay Ridge? Well, I speculate that they discovered Bay Ridge while exploring the greenbelt of wild foliage which follows the route of the railroad which runs through Brooklyn and forms a "greenway" link between Bay Ridge and Brooklyn College. This railroad, originally the Bay Ridge Branch of the Long Island Railroad, is still in use, and is famed for being traversed by Elvis Presley at the time of his induction into the Army. It provides a wild, leafy, and unobstructed path perfect for the migration of "charismatic megafauna" such as wild urban parrots. When one smart bird spotted the stadium light poles (of very similar design to those at Brooklyn College), it was a simple matter of applying some time, effort, and the monk parakeet's hard-wired "weaving instinct" to produce the large nests we see today.
The park includes a popular sandlot baseball field (dubbed "The Dust Bowl"), tennis courts, a basketball area, a playground, and a park area with many wild plants. The wild parrots have built large twig nests in four of the six large stadium light fixtures that surround the baseball field.
Two alert parrots in the stadium light pole nest scan South Brooklyn's sky for predators.
Four wild Brooklyn Parrots enjoy foraging with other urban birds at the East end of Leif Ericson Park.
Both sides of Leif Ericson park are adorned with beautiful old trees enjoyed by at least four species of birds.
A svelt wild parrot struts his stuff on the iron railing at the East end of Leif Ericson Park.
Pigeons, starlings, sparrows and starlings all seem to get along well in Leif Ericson Park. Here, they're foraging for bread and bagel fragments donated by a caring neighborhood resident.
Two wild Bay Ridge parrots peer down curiously at the photographer from a tree adjacent to the tennis courts.
Parrots squawking, talking, and flying free at one of the stadium light poles surrounding "the Dust Bowl".
Leif Ericson Park appears to include all the elements required for a successful wild parrot colony in an urban environment: sturdy and defensible nest platforms, trees perfect for gathering nest construction supplies, a source of water in the form of several water fountains and an active playground sprinkler, a ready supply of year-round food in the form of people who feed birds scraps of food, and the presence of three other urban bird species: pigeons, starlings, and sparrows, which collectively constitute a large, heterogenous flock providing cover for individual birds.
If you want to visit Leif Ericson Park, you can get there very easily by subway. Just take the N train to either 8th Avenue or Fort Hamilton Parkway and walk several blocks South. The parrots’ activity level is somewhat unpredictable: I’ve seen lots of squawking and ground foraging at noon on certain days, but when I’ve come by at the same time on a successive day, no parrots have been seen (perhaps they’re visiting their cousins a few miles away in Midwood). But even when the parrots seem scarce, there’s more than enough to do and see to make a visit to this park an enjoyable experience.
"Bay Ridge is for Lovers!" would certainly be an appropriate caption for this close-up shot of a wild parrot nest whose occupants enjoy a bit of beak-to-beak trysting.