Saturday, December 31, 2005

Please Help Connecticut's Homeless Parrots

This December, pro-parrot citizens in Connecticut were able to get United Illuminating and the USDA to quit killing the wild parrots which live there. But UI continues to destroy their nests. These wild parrots' lives have been spared, but they're homeless and very cold: please, if you have a few dollars, donate to the alternate nest building program being run by Marc Johnson and hosted at

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Wild Parrots of Brooklyn on Animal Planet!

Animal Planet came out to Brooklyn a few weeks back to film the wild parrots for a new show called Animal Planet Reports. The episode (number 8) with the wild parrots in it will air this Friday night, December 30th, at 9:00 PM with a repeat viewing at midnight. You might even see me in the footage, but more importantly, you'll see plenty of "dem Brooklyn boids!" Note: if you missed this show, it will re-air on January 28th at 4:00 AM and also at 3:00 PM.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Monk Parrot Aggression!

Get Your Parrot Face Out of My
Parrot Face! (Two Monk Parrots
Challenge Each Other In Brooklyn)
People often ask me why I choose to spend so much time (basically, all my free time) documenting the lives of monk parrots in gritty urban areas. One reason is that the monk parrot is the Rodney Dangerfield of the parrot world: they get "no respect!" from the official world of birders, which generally regards them as "invasive," "introduced," or -- my pet peeve -- "aggressive."

Let's leave aside the "invasive" label for a moment. In so far as the monk parrot is "introduced," well, that's pretty much incontestable: these parrots didn't fly to Brooklyn or the Bronx on their own, and nobody claims they did. But I don't know any form of life -- at least in New York City -- that wasn't "introduced" at one time or another.

Let's focus on the "aggressive" stigma. Are these parrots aggressive, malicous thugs that are hassling native birds? Well, I've never seen this behavior, in fact, I've seen these birds get along well with every bird species you find in quantity in urban areas, namely starlings, sparrows, pigeons, and even mourning doves. There are plenty of other animals in New York that are aggressive to birds in urban areas, including feral cats, unleashed dogs, poorly parented kids, and bird-hating landlords, but parrots? As we say in Brooklyn, Fuhgeddaboudit.
Monk parrots generally get along with
other urban birds, including pigeons, starlings,
and as seen in this photo, sparrows
and mourning doves

But this is not to say that wild monk parrots, who have to be tough to survive in places like Brooklyn, Jersey, and the Bronx, aren't aggressive. These parrots are not wimps, but on the occasions when I've witnessed aggressive behavior, it's always been monk parrot-on monk parrot aggression. For reasons which are probably unknowable, these birds sometimes get on each others nerves, and they're not very shy about showing their displeasure.

Witness this encounter, which I recorded last weekend in the Bronx.

The bird on the left is just minding
his or her own business, but the bird on the right
is bugged about something, and monk parrots
are very bad at repressing negative feelings.

Yeoww! A bite in the tail feathers!

The aggressor seems to have no remorse. Fortunately,
this assault caused no real harm to the bird on right.
Like all urban creatures, monk parrots do have an aggressive streak. But focusing on aggressive behavior alone might lead some to believe that the character of these wild parrots' is basically loutish, and they'd be missing the point.

These parrots lead rich, social lives, and aggression, along with affection and cooperation, is a vital part of the total picture. For the most part, these birds peacefully cooperate in just about all the activities you'll see them active at, including feeding, nest-building, foraging, hunting for food, and - if one could peek into their high nests - raising their kids. If feathers fly from time to time, it's to be expected.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The 'Citizen Kane' of Wild Parrot Movies: Now Out on DVD

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill DVD
Mark Bittner's classic film about wild parrots, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, is now out on DVD. It's a delightful, quirky film that too many people missed out on when it was in limited theatrical distribution last Spring. But as of 12/27/05, the disk is out, and this development will certainly delight parrot fanciers from Coast to Coast. Mark is a great guy and the film is beautiful, funny, and very touching. So buy it, rent it, play it for family, your birds, your kids, and enjoy the incredible story of wild parrots in San Francisco!

With Mark's permission, I've uploaded the theatrical trailer for your enjoyment:
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (56Kbps low band-width version)
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (300Kbps high-bandwidth version)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Polly, It's COLD Outside!

How do parrots from South America manage to survive New York's frigid winters? Well, contrary to popular misconception, these parrots aren't tropical. They're quite used to winters, albiet their normal winters happen at different times of the year. Still, as anyone who's tried to weather a winter in The Big Apple knows, New York weather can be brutal, and we've seen temperatures dip into the low 20's in the last few days. So what's their secret to staying warm?

First, their bodies are equipped with very fine, multi-layered insulating down, which keeps them toastier than parrots that originate in the jungle. And, of course, these wild parrots have their sturdy, well-insulated nests to hunker down in. But they don't spend all day hunkering: many hours each day are spent foraging, gathering construction materials, flying around, yelling at the locals, and socializing.

One heat-saving method the parrots practice is the fine art of group huddling. When perching, which exposes them to the wind, ice, and rain, you'll often see these parrots packed together in two's and threes with feathers puffed, which lets them share body heat and provide a wind buffer for each other. Seeing two parrots huddling together means you're looking at a guy and a gal: seeing three huddling together means you're looking at a little family such as this one.

So which one is Mom, which one is Dad, and which one is Junior? Well, it's almost impossible to tell: these parrots have a standard dress (feather?) code that defies identification by gender and age. Only by watching this threesome for a while could I deduce from these birds' behavior that Junior is on the right side, sharing buffer duties with Dad to keep Mom warm against the biting wind. Good work, Kid!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Photo-Essay: Quaker Parrots: Master Architects of the Bird World

Quaker Parrots: Master Architects of the Bird World
People sometimes ask me -- especially when they see wild Quaker parrot nests in New York City for the first time -- how could these little birds build something so impressively massive?

A large Quaker Parrot nest built atop a stadium light pole.

Well, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was a Quaker Parrot nest like this one, which probably weighs at least 200 pounds. It takes teamwork, persistence, and patience, as well as project management skills to pull off this kind of massive construction project.

Quaker Parrot harvesting twigs from tree.

A well-engineered Quaker nest begins in a tree. Quaker nests are built of twigs - lots of them, intricately woven together. These expansive, all-weather parrot condos are built one twig at a time, and the construction work goes on throughout the year, rain, shine, or snow. In the photo to left, this little guy has already severed a good-looking twig from a tree, and is trying to balance it so that he can transport it to his nest without any aerial

Quaker Parrot in flight with twig in beak.

Leaping from the branch with twig in beak, this Quaker begins air-lifting the fresh-cut lumber to its destination. Within 30 seconds, it will be placed in the nest, where it will subsequently be woven into the existing nest structure by other Quakers.
Quaker Parrot in flight with large twig for nest.

Quaker parrots are Nature's equivalent of the heavy-lifting C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. This twig is almost twice as long as this little bird's body.
Quaker Parrot in flight with large twig.

Now the difficult part of the journey begins. This Quaker must lift that heavy twig UP some 75-feet. Don't try this at home, kids!

Quaker Parrot in flight with large twig.

Wings grabbing mightily for traction in the icy air, the high stadium light nest is soon almost within reach.

Quaker Parrots adding twigs to nest.

This Quaker isn't alone in adding twigs to the nest today -- another one is pitching in. Quakers are amazing flyers who can hover in place much like hummingbirds. This allows them to place twigs with precision; when they're through hovering, they simply shift into forward-flight mode, much like a Harrier Jump Jet.

Large Quaker Parrot nest with multiple birds doing design
and construction work.

In fact, nest building is very much a family affair: this whole clan is doing construction today (although most are taking a well-earned break right now) - many beaks make light the work! After the twig is placed, another bird will take it and begin weaving it into the existing structure. Sometimes, the twig will need trimming, in which case the weaving bird will adjust its length.

It is speculated that one reason that young birds stay in the nest for such a long time (up to 2 years) is to "apprentice" in the various specialized skills required to build a successful nest before setting out on their own.
Quaker Parrots in the snow.

Cutting, ferrying, and weaving twigs all day takes energy: lots of it. By the time a few dozen twig installations have been made, these little birds are hungry. Unfortunately, the Quakers' foraging field is covered in snow today, making the task of finding acorns -- these Quakers' main high energy staple -- difficult.

Quaker Parrots in the snow.

The birds aren't going to go hungry today, however. See those tiny sprigs of grass sticking up through the snow? They're delicious and nutritious!

Quaker Parrots in the snow.

Well, enough munching. We've got mouths to feed, a nest to insulate, and the weather ain't getting any warmer. Back to work, compadres - you're going to carry that weight a long time!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Wild Parrots in the Snow!

On Sunday night, New York City had its first snowfall of the winter season, so naturally I ventured forth to see if I could obtain some images of wild parrots in the snow. I had reasonable luck, as these photos attest.

Enjoy this strange urban marvel: bright green and grey parrots, in the middle of New York City, frolicking in the December snow! Who needs to go to Bermuda or Cancun when there is such exotic wildlife right here?

(click on any image to see an enlargement)

Jump for joy! There's a scattering of Petco gourmet-style Finch Seed on the ground, which is especially welcome today, because the wild parrots' usual foraging ground is under an impenetrable coat of snow.

Mourning doves and sparrows are often found in the company of New York's wild parrots. Some people unfortunately think that the quaker parakeets harass other birds, but I've never seen it happen. The quakers seem to get along with every bird in New York, except for crows, falcons, and hawks, which they do not like at all. The quaker parakeets and mourning doves are enjoying this seed, but aren't dependent on it. The quakers do very well eating acorns, which are often found around the base of trees, where the snow doesn't build up heavily.

Some might call the quaker parakeets' remarkable success story in our hemisphere as an example of a highly evolved, highly adaptive creature created by the Darwinian lathe of natural selection. Others will surely view them as an example of really intelligent "Intelligent Design."

Either way, they're tough, vociferous little characters who have, in my view, earned the honorific title, "American Parrot."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

BREAKING NEWS: Connecticut Parakeet Killings Halted

I have just received word from Laurel Lundstrom, of, that United Illuminating has agreed to stop -- at least temporarily -- killing wild parrots in Connecticut. Thanks to everyone who squawked so loudly that a powerful energy company had to back down! More on this story as it evolves - you can post comments at

Maybe there IS a Santa Claus!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Photo-Essay: The Parrots of December

Four Brooklyn Parrots Soar Upward Above Campus Road
It's cold in the Northeast, but the wild parrots of New York City, which reside happily in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, are adapting to the change in the weather. Winter is a trial for all of us, but these birds are resourceful, and will likely make it through this winter without too much trouble. I wish the same could be said for their brethren in Connecticut, but that's another story.

I took these pictures on December 2, 2005 to show you a few scenes from a day in the life of a wild Brooklyn Parrot. Enjoy - please click on any thumbnail to see a larger image.

Brooklyn parrot doing lookout duty from a tree on Campus Road
With temperatures in the 30's, you'd expect these little parrots to be staying snuggled up inside their well-insulated nests. But they're out and about, and they often perch while puffing up their feathers, like this little guy, who's serving as lookout for the parrots feeding below him.

Brooklyn parrot performing lookout duty
Lookout duty isn't particularly glamorous, but it's an essential job that the oldest, most experienced birds perform, to make sure that the young ones don't get whacked by a predator. This elder bird is checking out the skies for hawks and falcons, both of which have been much in evidence recently at the Brooklyn College campus.

Brooklyn parrots gathering on a cyclone fence at Brooklyn College's athletic field
Brrr - that steel fence has got to be cold. But the wild parakeets of Brooklyn don't complain. After all, they're from the Southern Hemisphere, so they're used to winters. And it's a fairly balmy day in Brooklyn today: temperatures are just in the low 30's!

Monk Parrot foraging in the grass in Brooklyn
This shot looks like it was taken in May, not December. But the grass in Brooklyn stays green a long time, and this little one is enjoying feeding on it.

Monk Parrot marching forward in grass
These parrots walk a lot, and because, like all parrots, they have two forward-facing and two rearward-facing toes, they tend to waddle, which gives them a comical, and slightly martial appearance when moving forward. At the risk of over-anthropomorphising them, their marching gait reminds me a bit of Alec Guinness' character in the film, Bridge on The River Kwai.

Monk parrots argue over the Brooklyn stadium project
These parrots, like all social creatures, sometimes have disagreements which result in some fairly loud squawking. These two are confronting each other, but from their tone it appears that a peaceful resolution to their dispute may be reached short of any ruffled feathers.

Monk parrots feeding on Campus Drive, Brooklyn, NY
We are hungry! A load of Petco finch seed will keep these feathered Brooklynites energized for a few cold days.

Pigeons, starlings, sparrows, and parrots feeding in Brooklyn
We have at least three invasive species in this picture. Each of them - pigeon, starling, and parrot - was brought to America by humans and they're surviving as best they can. Only the parrots, however, have been actively persecuted by death squads such as those operating in Connecticut and Florida. These little birds are lucky to be living in New York, which is a kinder-hearted state.

Parrots take off after hearing loud urban sound, Brooklyn, NY
Fast reflexes are necessary for survival in any urban environment. Microseconds after any loud, percussive sound, these birds are airborne.

Monk parrots eating bird seed on Campus Road, Brooklyn, NY
The monks love to eat the special clover that lives in the grassy areas around the ball field, but they're also suckers for bird seed. I buy the good stuff for them, because I often suspect that I will be reincarnated as a monk parakeet in my next life (I'm still not sure if this would be a promotion or not), and I hope that someone does the same for me.

Two Brooklyn parrots conferring on cyclone fence as sparrow flies by
Two plush-looking quaker parakeets perch on the steel fence, as a sparrow zooms by behind them.

Monk parrots perched on fire escape, Brooklyn, NY
When I think of "Brooklyn Parrots," I think of this shot, which shows two happy pairs of monk parakeets and two loners perched on a fire escape in very cold weather. Despite the exigencies, love and life are triumphant in the most romantic of the city's boroughs.

Monk parrots arguing or joking on fire escape, Brooklyn, NY
Are these two couples hanging out on a Brooklyn fire escape arguing or joking with each other? Without knowing how to speak "Monk," it's impossible to tell, but I'd like to think that, like The Honeymooners' Ralph, Alice, Ed, and Trixie, they're sharing a joke.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Meeting Fails: UI Seeks "Solution" for Wild Parakeet Population in Connecticut

Despite a two-hour meeting between Connecticut State officials with United Illuminating, today the Connecticut utility company refused pleas from public officials to stop the mass killings of wild monk parakeets. This meeting was closed to the public at large and to pro-wildlife groups seeking to use established, non-lethal means to control the wild parakeets.

Already about 10 percent of Connecticut's wild parakeets have been killed by poison gas. Connecticut state legislaters claim that without an executive order from Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell ordering a cessation of the gassings, they can do nothing.

Please sign our online petition, which now has 1413 signatures.

Also, please contact the Connecticut Governer and urge her to intervene before the immoral killings of these intelligent creatures go any further:

Governor M. Jodi Rell

Executive Office of the Governor
State Capitol
210 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, Connecticut 06106

Greater Hartford Area: 860-566-4840
Toll Free: 800-406-1527
TDD: 860-524-7397

Also, please free to click on the "Connecticut Cruelty" license plate image I created to view and print out a full-size version.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Vigil for the Connecticut Parakeets: Friday, West Haven, CT: 7PM

I received this message today from Laurel Lundstrom, the Program Coordinator for, who's been central to the effort to stop the cruel killings of wild parakeets in Connecticut:

Vigil for the Parakeets - Tomorrow, West Haven -- 7 p.m. -- please RSVP

Why? Despite public outcry, United Illuminating continues to facilitate the gassing and killing of Connecticut's monk parakeets.

Where? We will meet in Chick's parking lot on East Street in West Haven and walk/drive over to First Avenue and the other neighborhoods where the birds have been killed.

When? Friday December 2, 7 p.m.

What? Bring Candles, signs and petitions

Also, if you haven't already done so, please sign our online petition!

In related news, learned today that at least one person was arrested for civil disobedience last night as the crews of Unitied Illuminating and the USDA worked after dark in Connecticut. We have access to video footage of this incident, which we will post online as soon as possible. More on this as this story moves.