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, October 31, 2005
The Marvelous Monk Parrots of Marine Park
The wild parrots of Brooklyn have had a thriving colony in Brooklyn's Marine Park area for many years. Marine Park is a section of Brooklyn which is rich in history: native American artifacts from as early as the 9th Century have been unearthed there. Despite 20th Century pressures to industrialize, much wild space remains, and this is an important reason that wild life of all kinds thrives there.
BrooklynParrots.com has not yet personally inspected the Marine Park parrot nests, and is very grateful to Mr. Ronald Bourque, of Brooklyn, who took these fine photographs today. Mr. Bourque, an active birder, hopes to provide more field reports on the wild parrots of South Brooklyn soon.
If it is actually true that the original source for the Brooklyn wild parrot colony was "The Great Escape" from JFK airport in the 1960's, the birds which settled in Marine Park may be the oldest living colony of wild monks in Brooklyn, because Marine Park is much closer to JFK than Midwood, the site where the main colony established itself in the early 1970's.
Like other wild parrots living in Brooklyn, the Marine Park gang prefers to nest in power lines whose sturdy structural support and year-round heat provide safety from high winds and comfort from biting temperatures.
Another view of the same nest, which is active and inhabited.
Some nests on Gerritsen Street have evidently been abandoned, a situation which has alarmed some residents of Marine Park, and caused sensational rumors of wild parrot poaching to ripple through the neighborhood.
Another abandoned nest. Why do Brooklyn parrots sometimes abandon their nests? Do they just get tired of the hassle of living in a dense, urban area? Nobody has a definitive answer, but it is speculated that over time, mites and other parasites can begin living in the nests, causing the parrots enough discomfort to make them relocate. Over time, with no blood meal, the parasites die out, and then, provided the basic twig structure hasn't been removed by Co Ed, the parrots will move back in.
This exact scenario seems to have played out recently in Whitestone, a part of Queens where the parrots set up camp about eight years ago. Several years later, the parrots disappeared, leaving their nests abandoned, and have only returned in the last few weeks, delighting those who had thought they'd gone away forever. With any luck at all, it will play out in similar fashion on Brooklyn's Avenue I, whose nests are, at least for the moment, devoid of parrots: a fact which has caused great concern among residents there who have grown accustomed to the birds' daily "raucous caucus."
I'm very grateful to the NY Times, which, on Wednesday, sent out a wonderful reporter named Nick Confessore to report on the wild parrots of Brooklyn. You can read the article here. Regrettably, the great photos taken by Michael Nagle aren't included in the online article, but Nick's great writing creates vivid word pictures!
The weather, finally, has turned cold in Brooklyn, and the borough's wild parrots are adjusting their behavior accordingly. In this brief photo-essay, we take a look at what life is like for a wild green parrot in a world quickly turning grey and more inhospitable with every passing day. These photos were taken in mid-October, 2005 (click on any image to see an enlargement).
A green leaf might not seem to have much nutritive value compared to the berries that used to bloom in this Brooklyn neighborhood, but this parrot seems to be enjoying his spartan meal. How these parrots digest this stuff is anybody's guess.
Two parrots perch on a steel fence near Brooklyn College's Campus Drive. Unlike humans, wild parrots don't put their summer clothes away and don sweaters and long underwear in October. They simply puff up their feathers and keep them puffed up for months at a time. The parrot on the right looks almost pensive, as if remembering the lazy afternoons and easy pickings that have already grown scarce.
October winds often bring unwelcome surprises, in the form of parrot nests destroyed by the weather. I came across this downed nest one morning in Edgewater, New Jersey, and gingerly turned it over, expecting to find injured parrots or worse. Fortunately, the "Emergency Nest Evacuation" order seems to have been heeded in a timely manner: no hurt parrots were found.
Just about every animal in Brooklyn seems hungry in October. After tossing down some bird seed, parrots, squirrels, starlings, and sparrows quickly appeared and chomped through the meal in a matter of seconds.
Squirrels aren't the only urban fauna to love acorns: these Brooklyn Parrots know where the right trees are, and will often come to hunt for acorns when the coast is clear.
I'm not sure what these birds are eating here, but it's interesting enough to hold their attraction. Small ants, perhaps?
"RED ALERT: Jogger Approaching!" The birds sound a noisy "group alarm" and take off quickly, as a speeding human charges by in Reeboks, oblivous to their meal-gathering efforts.
October is the first month of real food scarcity that the Brooklyn Parrots have experienced in months, and tempers often flare. The birds at the bottom of this photo are arguing about something, and the dispute might well be meal-related. Of course, they could just be arguing for the sake of arguing: this is, after, all Brooklyn!
I've uploaded an 11-minute, MP3 recording of the Brooklyn Parrots. It was recorded on the Brooklyn College campus and you can clearly hear these birds calling, chanting, signalling, and possibly arguing with each other (this is, of course, Brooklyn).
Several minutes into the recording, Brooklyn College's mellifluous electronic bells begin to chime, and they happened to be playing "New York, New York." the famous New York anthem composed by John Kander and Fred Ebb and sung so memorably by Frank Sinatra. A chill went up my spine when I was standing out there with my microphone, especially at the passage when Frank would sing the lyrics "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." The parrots - among the most amazing urban survivors in New York - seem to cheer even louder. Then the bells begin playing Sinatra's classic "It was a Very Good Year" and the birds begin to really cut loose!
If you own a Quaker Parrot, I'd be very interested in hearing what your bird's reaction to this MP3 file is!
BREAKING NEWS: NJ Wild Parrot Nest Teardowns Postponed Until 2006
Wild parrots in Edgewater signalled their pleasure that their homes will be safe through the winter.
In a surprising last-minute compromise reached between Public Service Electric & Gas and a New Jersey-based pro-parrot group, the utility company agreed to postpone planned nest teardowns in the town of Edgewater until March of 2006. The teardowns, originally scheduled for this Thursday, would have affected pole-dwelling parrots living on River Road and in connecting roads in north Edgewater. PSE&G, much to its credit, paid heed to wild parrot expert Marc Johnson, who suggested that the most humane way to control Edgewater's wild parrot population is for the utility company to remove nests in March, after the cold weather has passed but before the breeding season begins. The victory is testament to the extraordinary efforts of Alison Evans-Fragale, whose group lobbied long and hard for a postponement, local political officials, and an enlightened management at PSE&G, which approached this difficult issue with an open mind.
How Did These Wild Parrots Get to NYC? - Another Theory
Did the wild parrots that now inhabit NYC escape from New York's Kennedy Airport or New Jersey's Newark Airport? If the latter, it might explain how this wild parrot got to Edgewater.
I opened a copy of the Metro newspaper today and read a Letter to the Editor written by Mr. Rudolf R. Birzin of Manhattan. Mr. Birzin notes, correctly, that there are several wild parrot colonies in Brooklyn in addition to the main colony in Midwood, but his explanation of their arrival is one I've not heard before: "The green parrots started in Newark, N.J., in the 1960's living in a cemetery. They are believed to have escaped from Newark Airport."
This is the first time I've heard of an escape of parakeets from Newark Airport (the most oft-cited account is that they escaped from Kennedy Airport, not Newark). It is, of course, possible that wild parrots escaped from both airports, or that Mr. Birzin's account is a variation of the Kennedy escape story. We know that many mysterious legends swirl around the parrots' origins.
We also know from eyewitnesses is that the parrots arrived at Brooklyn College no later than 1971, but before this date, the trail grows murkier and muddier. I would like to see more evidence of the Newark escape theory before modifying my standing account of the parrots' arrival on our shores, but if Mr. Birzin is correct, it would explain how the parrots which reside in New Jersey today got there. According to eyewitnesses, they were first seen in Hoboken in the 1980's and moved to Edgewater, where we find them today, in the early 1990's. It does not overly strain credibility to imagine that they might have begun their strange sojourn through New Jersey in a Newark cemetery.
After a week of fruitless searching, flyering, e-mailing, and other efforts to get the word out about Goldie, the free-flying parakeet at Brooklyn College, no sightings have been made. We hope this little bird found shelter before it got as cold as it is now in New York. We want to thank all who helped in this effort, especially Crystal, Bob, Denise, and Barbara, who worked tirelessly to bring this bird in. If there is solace to be gained from this experience, it is that we put together a good team, worked on a good cause, and leaned much about what it takes to accomplish a parrot/parakeet rescue in New York.
With all due respect to our great nation, American's citizens tend to over-react to any given threat. Right now, Bird Flu has replaced Anthrax, Osama Bin Laden, and Flouridation as "the thing that is most likely to kill us all in the next six months," and pet bird owners in the U.S. have naturally over-reacted to this over-reaction. Some are already reaching for their guns, betting that FEMA, CDC, or some other sinister representatives of officialdom will soon descend from their black helicopters, knocking on their doors with guns drawn, to kill their beloved birds.
In truth, there is very litle chance that any pet bird, or even any bird to North America, whether a free-flying Quaker in Brooklyn or a housebound "perch potato" African Grey in Milwaukee, is in any danger of catching the strain of bird flu that everybody's got their feathers ruffled about. But media-driven hysteria is not easily quashed, by facts or by reason, which is why it was very good to receive, this news item from the United Arab Emerites, a nation which initially responded, in hysterical fashion, to the Bird Flu threat by an order calling for the killing of every pet bird in the land.
This order has now been rescinded. Reason has prevailed over panicked superstition. People are beginning to put the facts together, take appropriate precautions, and tempers are cooling.
Dr Martin Wyness, head of the British Veterinary Centre in Abu Dhabi, had this to say about the situation in the UAE: "The risk in this case would be other humans, not the family's budgie. If there was evidence that pet birds were involved in spreading bird flu, we would support a cull in order to protect humans, but there is no evidence," he said. He said there was an air of panic surrounding bird flu and this was leading to many "knee-jerk reactions."
It's easy to panic, but much harder to take a deep breath, look at the facts, and take rational action that takes account of the nuances of the situation. Just because a thing called "dog flu" exists doesn't mean that we have to kill all the dogs. And just because a thing called bird flu does include a very dangerous strain doesn't mean that the authorities will soon come calling to kill your pet budgie, quaker, or African Grey.
Why? Because it just isn't reasonable, nor necessary, nor appropriate given what we know about the threat. Reason - which isn't very much in fashion in our hyper-ideologic, faith-driven, panic-ruled world, still exerts a force and it's one we should all pay serious attention to. Because, in the final analysis, it's the best thing our own species has going for it, and while it might not very "cool" to be on the side of reason right now, it's the force I'd say is the one best worth betting our future survival on, as well as the future of those species who co-habitate with us on this planet.
If there's a silver lining to the current cloud over Bird Flu, it's that nations, especially EU, may begin to rethink the wisdom of allowing the importation of wild exotic birds, a practice outlawed in the U.S. since 1992. This practice decimates endangered species, and legislation to put a stop to it has been on the table for some time. At the very least, the bird quarantining practices in the UK, which allow for the mixing of different birds from Asia, South America, and Africa, should undergo the highest scrutiny, given the geographically specific risks that bird flu poses to our feathered friends, as well as to our own species.
Note: the above photograph is a PhotoShop alteration showing what Edgewater's "White Parrot" may look like.
Two separate sightings in the last two weeks of a pure-white parrot in Edgewater, New Jersey, have electrified wild parrot-watchers in the town. According to eyewitnesses who have spied the bird flying around town, the parrot is too small to be an escaped cockatoo, nor have any escaped cockatoos been reported in the area. Initial speculation was that the white parrot may in fact have been a pigeon mistaken for a parrot (both species co-habitate on River Road). But the man who spotted the white bird on Monday perched on a fence in Veteran's Park insists it's a parrot, not a pigeon.
No photographic evidence of the white parrot yet exists. Local birders plan to mount multiple expeditions soon to capture a picture of it. Some speculate that this bird may be a color-mutated Quaker parrot. We hope to have more information on this bird soon.
Two wild New Jersey parrots munch on bagel fragments in Edgewater's "Parrot Park."
People always ask me: "what do these wild parrots eat?" Well, the fact is that these adaptive animals will eat almost everything: their diet includes weeds, leaf buds, berries, birdseed and even worms, making them as close to omniverous as you can get. These birds' ecumenical tastebuds rank among the main reasons for their unexpected success in adapting to America's urban environments.
But until yesterday, I had always dismissed reports that these wild parrots actually ate bagels: bagels -- one of the great joys of living in New York -- just seemed too exotic for even an exotic parrot to stomach. "Feh!," I'd say, "That's just another urban legend!"
But lo and behold, our Wild Parrot Paparazzi caught up with a flight of New Jersey parrots who seem to have developed a liking for bagel fragments, and the photo above is proof positive that bagels are now on the diet of these adaptive avian invaders.
Only question is -- could this little guy even take off with a bagel fragment if it were loaded with a regulation-sized "shmeer" of cream cheese?
On this page, you can watch videos of the world famous Brooklyn Parrots. Most of these clips will be included in our soon-to-be-released movie about these incredible avian invaders. Enjoy!
This project is a joint project between the Brooklyn Parrot Society and New York Tails Magazine. We are always interested in talking with potential Executive Producers and Distributors: if you'd like to participate, please e-mail Diane West. If you or or your Quaker Parrot would like to be in the movie, please e-mail me.
03/31 - New version of "Ballad of the Brooklyn Parrots" completed. This version finally matches full-motion images with the song lyrics.
12/24 - A cute video of a pair of "Brooklyn Boids" under the mistletoe at Green-Wood Cemetery.
12/14 - A video message from Monkzilla (one of Brooklyn's oldest and most influential wild parrots) on the current Wild Parrot Crisis in Yacolt, Washington.
12/8 - A new mini-movie entitled "Holiday Hassle" shows the Brooklyn Parrots trying to plan their Christmas Wish Lists in the midst of deadly danger.
11/16: A special video Thanksgiving Greeting from the Parrots to you and yours!
11/10/07: "Hawk Attack in Brooklyn" depicts the wild parrots' reaction to an attack by a Red-Tailed Hawk.
8/23/07: Part 1 of the "Great Baby Quaker Parrot Rescue, shot on 6/7/2007, edited and uploaded (see below).
8/14/2007: Our team completed a new music video using a lot of clips shot earlier this year: it's called "The Little Green Parrots of the Argentine" and can be viewed below.
6/28/2007: Our team shot a lot of footage at the Great Baby Quaker Parrot Rescue in the Bronx and plan to get this footage onto YouTube sometime in July. I also will be shooting more this weekend as we get up close and personal with these rescued birds in their secure out-of-state location. Please stay tuned: this will be an incredibly dramatic sequence in the movie.
Production Update 3/31/2008: NEW CLIPS (many of which will appear in our upcoming documentary):
Ballad of the Brooklyn Parrots: The (Definitive) Full-Motion Video Version
Quaker Parrots Under the Mistletoe (Holiday 2007 Video Christmas Card)
Monkzilla Addresses the Quaker Nation
"Holiday Hassle" (Starring the Brooklyn Parrots)
A Brooklyn Parrots Thanksgiving
Video: Hawk Attack in Brooklyn!
Video: The Great Baby Quaker Parrot Rescue (Part 1)
Music Video: The Little Green Parrots From the Argentine
Video Clip: Interview with Mark Bittner and Judy Irving in New York (Complete Interview), Part 1
Video Clip: Interview with Mark Bittner and Judy Irving in New York (Complete Interview), Part 2
Video Clip: Interview with Mark Bittner and Judy Irving in New York (3 minute edited interview)
Video Clip: Wild Parrots in the Bronx!
Video Clip: Wild Parrot Pizza Party!
Video Clip: Bay Ridge St. Patrick's Day Parade 2007
Video Clip: Wild Parrots at Brooklyn Bird Feeder
New Brooklyn Parrots Trailer!
The Amazing Wild Quaker Parrots of Edgewater, New Jersey!
Wild Quaker Parrots in the Snow!
Lunch with the Brooklyn Quakers!
Quaker Parrots Frolic in Freezing Cold
Love Under an AC Unit
Quaker Parrot Repels Starlings
Wild Quaker Parrots "Rumble" in Brooklyn
Quaker Parrots Evacuate Nest and Sound Alarm
Marty Markowitz Discusses Wild Parrots of Brooklyn
Ballad of the Brooklyn Parrots
2/5/07: Lots of productinve activity over the past few months. Assembling this footage is taking a long time but it will be worth it. In the meantime, we're uploading more clips to give an indication of what will be in the final movie. New Trailer coming soon!
7/24/06: PRODUCTION UPDATES
7/22/06: Despite the flaky weather, our crew spent a productive day in Edgewater, New Jersey, interviewing Alison Evans-Fragale, who has been a primary force in the attempt to reform the laws which stigmatize monk parrots as a "potentially dangerous species." We got some great pix of the quakers and a terrific interview with a local restauranteur for whom the parrots have been a business boon. We also got Alison to demonstrate the construction and operation of an alternative nesting platform "monk bunker."
7/17/06: We completed a shoot at Greenwood cemetery on 7/17. I have not screened it yet but believe we have some wonderful footage of the "shaking quaker" babies.
OVERARCHING TASKS We are working to complete a 2-hour feature, deliverable sometime in 2007. We have two main tasks:
1. Getting interviews (right now, we have a lot of "street interviews" and a great "authority" interview with Ken Taylor, of Green-wood Cemetery. We hope to interview Marty Markowitz, reps from Con Ed and PSE&G, parrot authorities, and other Brooklynite who remembers the time when the Quakers came to Brooklyn.
2. Getting video of birds in action in NYC, NJ, Connecticut. We have very nice footage now which has been distributed on Animal Planet and is being evaulated by the BBC in connection with a documentary scripted by Adam Gopnik. We are working with Marc Johnson, of FosterParrots.com, to trade footage; Marc made a good video documentary of the crisis which affected the monk parrots in late 2005. We plan to shoot in all good weather in Brooklyn, New Jersey, and perhaps Connecticut through the Fall of 2006.
BrooklynParrots wishes to thank Diane West, of New York Tails, for financing this film. If you want to know more about the movie, please Send E-mail to learn more. We'd love to interview you if you would like to share your experiences with wild parrots in urban areas.
I'm very glad to say that an independent movie about the Brooklyn Parrots is now in production.
I'm a big fan of recent movies about birds, notably The March of the Penguins and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. They have proven that there is a new-found interest in nature among film-lovers, and I was inspired by both of these wonderful films to try something with a small team, which now includes Diane West, editor of the New York-based New York Tails magazine, who has access to an excellent crew. I believe that the story of the Brooklyn Parrots includes many dramatic elements which will not make this "just another bird movie." The struggles of these birds -- so far from home, strangers in a strange land -- a jungle of stone, really -- subject to predators ranging from hawks to poachers to utility companies, makes for a fine drama.
But Brooklyn Parrots will not just be a film about exotic birds in an exotic location, but a film about the people of New York who love them, rescue them, obsess over them, feed them in February, fight over them, write stories and poems about them, and otherwise find their lives altered by these exotic avian invaders. Like Brooklynites from the beginning of time, they've taken the cause of these scrappy underdogs (underbirds?) by going to bat for them, organizing citizens committees for them, and otherwise protecting them from the harshest sides of the urban machine. So this is as much a film about these unsung urban heroes and the extraordinary diversity and humanity of Brooklyn as it is about these wacky, endearing urban parrots who, according to legend, say "Fuhgeddabouddit" when they're up in their high nests, conversing about the events of the day.
We are in the very early stages of production now. We've shot some footage in Brooklyn, will be returning soon, and will continue to follow the birds and their human admirers throughout the winter.
We know that independent films are a difficult game to win at. That one can produce a perfectly fine movie but have it fail or worse -- remain unfinished and forlorn unless one has all one's, er "ducks in a row." We are interested in executive producers and distributors who may want to lend their weight to this project, not because they want to make a fast buck, but because they believe in it, and can see the potential for this film as a teaching tool, an effective, appealing drama, an insight into the people who make Brooklyn tick, and an entry for people of all ages into one of the greatest urban survival stories ever told.
If you are one of these people, or know someone who's interested in pitching in to this project in terms of being an Executive Producer, Distributor, or other film industry pro, I invite you to call or email me. We plan on offering fair profit participation to those who help, but do not think of this film as a purely profit-driven enterprise. We fully expect to donate a sizeable share of profits to institutions which are dedicated to studying these birds and educating the public on the issues affecting them.
Dushka, Diane, Janelle, and Steve pose after a hard day's parrot shoot. Donald, behind the camera he controls so well, is a key member of the Brooklyn Parrots video team and one of these days, we'll make him show his beak!
A wild Quaker Parrot peers out of a nest built on an artificial platform in Boston.
The push to deploy artificial nest platforms for wild Quaker Parrots received new impetus over the weekend when an anonymous NJ resident agreed to house such platforms on his property. This development is important because utility companies such as Con Ed and PSE&G have long sought ways to lure the wild parrots away from their utility poles but neither they nor any research institutes have deployed any funds for such development or testing.
Plans for Marc Johnson's artificial nesting platforms.
Private volunteers, who work without pay or other support from officialdom, are filling this research and development gap. The platforms are cheap to make, and the only real cost is labor. The work is dangerous, and none of us have health insurance, so if we break our limbs while doing such work, our only recourse is "home surgery using hand tools." Still, we are willing to take the risk because we want to do our part for "the world's most persecuted parrot."
It is too early to say whether the planned installation will prove successful. The platforms have worked in the Boston area, but we may find it necessary to deploy several designs and fine-tune them to attract the parrots. This is an ongoing experiment and our findings will be published, in order that other pro-parrot groups can use them.
This site is about the wild parrots who live in one urban place known as Brooklyn. So it's not really a place to opine about the contemporary evils that afflict humankind: particularly the evils of fear -- no, make that terror -- that freeze our human hearts and shrink our spirits in immobilizing seas of drowning adrenaline. And yet, with the recent announcements about an imminent attack on New York's subway system, I feel compelled to write something about this fear, this terror.
Do wild animals feel terror? Do they watch helplessly as their fellow kind are slaughtered, knowing there is nothing they can do but hide, knowing the predators that stalk them cannot be fought?
Yes, they do. One might almost say that the life of a wild parrot in Brooklyn or in New Jersey is so imbued with terror that it becomes second nature to them: that they have assimilated terror into their very beaks and bones. For these are not birds of prey, but prey birds: builders of nests, not raptors. Lovers, not warriors.
Life in the wilds for these gentle creatures is cruel: there are hawks, cats, dogs, Con Ed and PSE&G trucks, and all manner of threats that cannot be fought by these humble birds. These threats cannot be defeated, only thwarted, by teamwork and eternal vigilance, and one is struck by the degree to which these creatures have evolved a response to the nameless threats that stalk them each waking moment of their lives. This response is called the "sentinel system" and it consists in one bird always being on watch to alert those who are feeding or foraging of the appearance of a predator. The system is not faultless but it is the best thing these creatures have. And it works -- most of the time -- enough of the time to let their species survive and move their generations through the lathe of eternity.
These wild parrots -- and they are not the only kind of bird that do this -- rely on their sentinels and the protection of their flocks to provide cover for the special gift they bring to this world. They are predated, reduced by beast and man, and yet they go on, loving life, preening, quarelling, making babies, singing, and squawking. Yes, they live in fear -- terror -- but they do not stop living and they do not stop loving. They do not tear each other apart. They watch for the hawk, but once it has passed, their spirits awaken, and they move again. They do not shut down.
Many times each month, I take the subway to inspect these remarkable creatures and show their strange magnificence off to my fellow New Yorkers, and I will do so again. If I happen to be blown up while doing so, then that's the way it will be. Until that time, I will draw peace from these creatures, who simply seek to live, love, and sing their raucous song to an indifferent world. I will draw comfort from their existence, which defies the narrow claims made by humankind, whether they are claims for a restored Celiphate or a Total Christian Victory.
Above all, I will resist the fear -- the terror -- that threatens to tear our human flock apart by an endless war whose escalating global violence will only end in our species' extinction. There must be another way, and it may seem balmy, but I believe that this way already exists in nature, if our poor human brains could only grasp it. Because the terror of the hawk cannot be fought by war, nor can fear and terror be banished from this world forever by any victory that is based on violence.
The future -- for all but the warrior: the hawk -- seems impossible. Yet there is hope. For these wild, peaceful parrots, terror is the price of freedom. No bird is guaranteed a tomorrow, and yet they stick together and watch each other's backs. Who taught them to do this? God? Charles Darwin? Does it really matter?
Listen to this flock. They may not have tomorrow, but they have each other -- now: in the only moment that ever counts, and it is enough. We have much to learn from these birds, so far from home, so poor, so despised, and yet so miraculously free, so alive, emerald wings beating against the sun -- even as the hawk circles high above, prowling for its next kill.
"I don't like it and I really can't understand it," said this frustrated parrot, who had just finished putting a new roof on his nest on River Road. "PSE&G's corporate motto is 'We Make Things Magical' but as far as us parrots are concerned, it should be 'We Make Things Tragical.'"
Other wild parrots in Edgewater, especially those who were lucky enough to build their nests away from PSE&G's utility poles, seemed less alarmed. "PSE&G's teardowns won't really affect us," said the male in this tree-dwelling pair (left). "I'm not saying those pole-dwelling parrots deserve to become homeless, but maybe they'll learn their lesson this time: keep away from PSE&G's poles!"
"We're nervous about the teardowns, but we're prepared," said the male parrot of this pair (left), who both live in a tree nest on Route 5 but whose cousins live in a pole nest nearby. "Nobody in our family has any eggs in their nests right now." The female seemed less sanguine. "I don't know why people hate us so much," she said. "When did being a wild parrot become a crime in New Jersey?"
While the majority of parrots in Edgewater seemed resigned to the announced depradations, some parrots were plainly angry and didn't mind sharing their displeasure with this reporter. "Call my hysterical, but I haven't slept a wink since I learned that PSE&G trucks are coming back," said this haggard looking parrot. "I mean, we just finished rebuilding those nests. What are these utility guys trying to do -- freeze us to death?"
Although the mood among Edgewater's wild parrots remained glum on Monday, news of the teardowns spurred several prominent members of the bird community to respond generously to the crisis. Several tree-dwelling birds in Parrot Park have already agreed to open up their nests to parrots made homeless by the utility company. "We have two unoccupied chambers in this duplex," said the owner of this parrot condo (visible in the upper chamber), "and we're happy to let refugees stay here if PSE&G nukes their nests. When disasters happen, we'll open our doors - it's just the right thing to do."
About two weeks ago, I was telling a woman I met at a Manhattan cocktail party about the fact that there are wild parrots roaming over Brooklyn, the Bronx, and New Jersey, and she was genuinely horrified. "I certainly hope they're not spreading disease!" she said. "Do they attack people?"
I assured this woman that to my knowledge, wild parrots aren't any nastier than any other form of wildlife ordinarily found in urban areas of the U.S.A. I later found out that she had recently seen War of the Worlds, which may have caused her to view any invasions, even by extremely cute parrots, to be apocalyptic.
Still, there are enough myths about these parrots to float a boat, and they begin with the parrots' arrival here; what I call their Myth of Origin. In the last few weeks, I've heard the following stories about the Brooklyn parrots' arrival, each of which contains a dollop of truth and a dollop of nonsense:
1. They arrived when an Argentinean tramp steamer sunk in New York Harbor. 2. They escaped from a New York zoo aviary that collapsed in a blizzard. 3. A crate full of them fell off a truck back in 1998 that was transshipping them from Kennedy airport. 4. The hundreds of parrots now in Brooklyn are all related to a single mother and father. 5. They were blown here by Hurricane Gloria in the mid-1980s.
As I discussed in What Are Wild Parrots Doing in Brooklyn?, I believe that they came to Brooklyn in the late 1960's, because this incident has been widely quoted in the scientific literature about them, and I have received at least one direct report from a person who remembers seeing them at Brooklyn College in the early 1970's.
Still, while the Brooklyn Parrots' Myth of Origin may be reasonably settled, the more I study these birds, the more odd stories I run into. Yesterday, a guy in Midwood told me that on Ocean Avenue, there are wild parrots running rampant near 18th Street, but that they aren't Quaker Parrots at all. "They've mated with another kind of parrot," he said. "They're big and they're not green!" Last week, I ran into someone who insisted that the parrots' arrival in the New York Area was a sure sign of Global Warming. "There are going to be parrots at the North Pole in a few years," he said. "You can blame the Republicans for this one!"
Brooklyn is a borough that has always cherished its legends: Diamond Jim Brady, Steve Brodie, the "Sandhogs" who built the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and lately, the Brooklyn Parrots. Truth, fiction, myth and legend are free to intermingle in this fecund borough, producing an offspring that is wonderfully myterious, like the birds themselves.
The wild parrots that now inhabit the U.S.A. are just beginning their odyssey here, and thanks to these stories, it is already a mythic one. Nobody knows how it really began, or how it is likely to end. But with so many myths, superstitions, and working fictions already in play, it is clear that these wild parrots will carry these mysteries with them in ever widening circles, shrugging off the cold hand of rational science as easily as they do a frigid Brooklyn morning in February.
Myself and a professional bird rescuer will attempt to bring this little bird in very early Saturday morning. Wish us luck: I've never done this kind of thing before and I know that budgies are very difficult to bring in. But if we're successful, at least we have the assurance that Lemon will have a home.
The monk parrots that occupied this nest in Brooklyn disappeared three weeks ago
The wild parrot nests on Avenue I, which teemed with noisy chatter in May, fell silent three weeks ago. In the Mill Basin, Sheepshead Bay, and Marine Park sections of Brooklyn, a similarly eerie silence has been observed in recent weeks among watchers of the birds which have delighted, and occasionally irritated Brooklynites since the 1970's. And just about everybody has a theory about what's causing the parrots to disappear from the streets and skies of Brooklyn.
Some suspect foul play. Bob, a longtime resident of South Brooklyn who has long been delighted by the wild parrots, became convinced that poaching may be reducing the parrot population in Brooklyn after a next door neighbor witnessed several men scaling a Con Ed power pole in the dead of night. "They rode in on bicycles, the leader threw a net over the parrot nest, and they got three or four parrots. Lots of nests are now empty. There are still parrots here but it's not the way it used to be."
The economics of parrot poaching are certainly compelling enough. In local pet stores, baby Quaker Parrots of the kind found living free in Brooklyn can command up to $300 a bird. And because New York State law classifies these parrots as an Unprotected Species (along with pigeons, starlings, and sparrows), parrot poachers -- if they exist -- aren't even breaking the law.
But others doubt that parrot poaching has much to do with the wild parrots' disappearance. "I really doubt that there's much poaching going on in Brooklyn," said Mr. Barabash, whose wife, Janelle, is an active parrot watcher who organized a citizen's committee in 2003 after Con Edison removed all of the wild parrot nests on Avenue I in one fell swoop. "These birds can see 360 degrees and they'd hear an intruder long before he got close and fly away."
If poaching isn't the cause of the parrots' disappearance, what is? Bird flu, West Nile, or other avian ailments seem like longshots, because nobody in Brooklyn's seen any parrot corpses or sick parrots. Even Con Ed, perhaps the Brooklyn birds' most consistent opponent, has been quiescent this summer: while the utility company actively monitors the 130 wild parrot nests in Brooklyn, it hasn't removed more than a handful this summer.
Still, a number of less noticeable causes may be playing a role, including an enormous construction project at Brooklyn College which is happening in the main parrot colony's back yard. Although College officials have taken pains to avoid disturbing the parrots' nests on campus, the scale of such a project may be making the bird's think twice about staying in the neighborhood. And the fact that the summer of 2005 has been unusually dry may also be implicated: without a steady source of fresh water (either in the form of puddles or active fountains), monk parakeets will eventually move on.
Barring a catastrophic event such as a bird flu infection, it's unlikely that Brooklyn's wild population of parrots will disappear anytime soon. Right now, the birds have dispersed widely across the borough, from Red Hook through Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, and even as far south as Manhattan Beach, and many of these colonies seem to be thriving. Even in Midwood, where so many parrots have gone AWOL, there remain birds perching and playing high on the Brooklyn College stadium light poles just a few hundred yards away from the silent nests of Avenue I.
Although these parrots don't migrate, experts agree that they do shift their populations from time to time by pulling up stakes and leaving their once-busy nests behind in silence, and when they do, it's very hard for people to understand why they've abandoned the humans that supported and admired them. And this grief is made harder because no official group, from the Audobon Society to the New York State Fish and Wildlife Service, spends any time studying them or explaining why they came or why they left (monk parrots, after all, "illegal avians" and therefore don't really deserve being studied).
Where have all the parrots gone? You'll have to ask them.
Wild urban parrots and pigeons may squabble sometimes, but more often than not, they get along famously well.
BrooklynParrots.com is proud to announce that we have been asked to give a lecture on wild monk parrots to Pigeon People, a New York-based environmental group whose goal is to improve attitudes toward pigeons through public education. The lecture will take place on Sunday, October 16th, at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, in Central Park, at 1:00 PM. The Dana Center is located at the northeast corner of the Park at 110th Street.
As I've noted in my photo-comic, Monk Parrot High School Rumble, the wild parrots of Brooklyn and New Jersey have a close, and sometimes contentious relationship with the pigeons in the same area. But despite their occasional squabbling, it's also plain that these two bird species generally get along very well, and, in fact, depend on each other. In my lecture, I hope to illustrate the many ways that wild parrots and wild pigeons get along, ways which range from shared housing to cooperative flocking and feeding.
If you're in the Big Apple on Sunday, October 16th, please come by!
Sincerely, Steve Baldwin Webmaster BrooklynParrots.com
The budgie -- referred to either as "Goldie" or "The Yellow Guy" by local birders -- seems to be quite happy among the wild parrots. Goldie also spends a lot of time with the local sparrows, foraging, flocking, finding food, and otherwise darting about the campus as if she'd always been there.
But much uncertainty remains about this little bird's long-term prospects. One correspondent notes that a bright yellow bird like Goldie is certain "hawk food" (Red-Tailed hawks residing in nearby Prospect Park frequently overfly the campus). Some have suggested that an intervention is necessary to save Goldie. Others note that wild budgies can actually survive a winter in the Northeast, as long as they are allowed to use a vacated nest and have access to a steady source of food.
Should BrooklynParrots.com mount an expedition into the wilds of Brooklyn to capture this bird? If so, how exactly does one capture an escaped budgie? With a butterfly net? An empty cage with food inside? A tape recorder playing parakeet sounds? Should we leave Goldie alone and hope that nature's course is a kind one?
We are truly at odds over this budgie, and welcome any suggestions from our readers. If you have a suggestion, please send it on to firstname.lastname@example.org If the decision is made to try to save this little guy, we need to move quickly, for winter is just around the corner.
Note: This is an old article. If you're interested in the 2007 Calendar, please click here.
I've taken my best photos and put them into a wall calendar. These pix were taken on trips to Brooklyn and New Jersey. You can browse the pages here - $1.00 from every sale goes to benefit the Quaker Parakeet Society. 'Nuff said!
BirdTricks.com has some helpful parrot behavior tips and training resources.
Texas-based distiller Raileen makes some incredible Monk Parakeet-branded rum (for human consumption)
Location:New York, New York, United States
Steve Baldwin is a marketing manager in the fun and exciting world of Search Engine Marketing. In his spare time, he documents the lives of wild monk parrots in New York. Steve is an author who has written several books, Netslaves (McGraw-Hill, 1999) and Netslaves II (Allworth Press, 2003). Netslaves was called "one of the best business books of 1999" by Library Journal. His new book, Tango in America, features a parrot as its heroine. He has a B.A. from Fordham University in New York City.