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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Nice Childrens Book About the Brooklyn Parrots

Close up of a tough-looking Brooklyn Monk ParakeetI'm very glad to report that Nancy S. Mure, a talented, Brooklyn-based writer, has written a charming childrens book about the Brooklyn Parrots called "The Pizza Man and the Parrots." Nancy herself has written a nice article describing her book, growing up in Brooklyn, and, of course, the green birds themselves. Nancy's light-hearted linkage of Brooklyn's famed pizza with Brooklyn's famed parrots is particularly appropriate, given how much the parrots enjoy pizza.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Photo-Essay: The Fabulous Wild Parrots of Chicago

Like wild Quaker parrots living elsewhere in the 
U.S.A., the Chicago parrots love dandelions.
BrooklynParrots.com was lucky to be sent to Chicago this week on a business trip, which gave me an opportunity to see the wild quaker parrots that I've heard so much about. These remarkable birds comprise the Midwest's only known colony of wild parrots, and they've lived in Harold Washington Park (formerly Hyde Park) for many years.

Unlike the free-range monk parrots of New York and New Jersey, Chicago's hardy birds build nests in trees, not man-made structures. I find it truly remarkable that they can survive here, especially in the winter, when their nests are exposed to the brutally cold winds blowing off Lake Michigan, which is only a few hundred yards away.

I got out to the park around 7:00 AM on a Tuesday and found the parrots very busy. The low light at this time of the day is very good for photography. You can get to Harold Washington Park via cab (it's about a $20 ride from downtown Chicago), or by Metra commuter train, which, at just $2.10, is much more affordable. If you're taking a train from downtown, just get off at the Hyde Park station and walk East about three blocks. Head for the tennis courts, which are just off of 53rd Streets. Keep your ears peeled and follow the raucous cries of these amazing avian invaders to their Midwest headquarters!

Without further ado, here are some photos of the fabulous wild parrots of Chicago. Long may their presence grace the Windy City! (click on any photo for an enlarged image).

The park where the parrots live was once known as Hyde Park, but was renamed Harold Washington Park to celebrate Chicago's former mayor, who did much for Chicago and also protected the parrots, who he regarded as "true survivors," from those who wanted them eradicated.








The parrots' nests are in four trees at the lakeside side of the park. Given this open exposure to the lake, it's a miracle that the they can deal with the brutal winds coming off Lake Michigan.










I count five monk parrot nests in this large tree.

















Like their brethren in NY and NYC, these industrious parrots are always strengthening and improving their nests to endure the buffeting of the elements.










These little parrots are strong (Chicago being the city of "broad shoulders") and can flip heavy twigs around like tiny stevedores. Interestingly, the Chicago wild parrots seem to have no problem picking up twigs which have fallen from nests as a result of construction mishaps. I have never seen this behavior among New York monk parrots; once a twig is dropped on a Brooklyn street, it's left there to rot.





A monk parrot lifts off with a heavy twig in its beak. This twig will soon be an integral part of a sturdy lakeside tree nest. Nest-building (which seems to go on without a break from dawn to dusk) is a group activity engaging both male and female monks.









Across America, the month of May brings delicious dandelions, which monk parrots find particularly delectable. What could taste better, I ask you?











Chicago is full of large, magnificent American Crows, but they do make life difficult for the wild monk parrots, because the crows will rob the nests of eggs. This crow takes a drink from a water fountain in the Park.








I was sorry that I only had an hour or so to spend with the monk parrots of Harold Washington Park, but will be back to see them the next time I'm in Chicago.

Note: After running this photo-essay, I heard from Cliff Patterson, of the Baby Bird Farm. Cliff has some clarifying info about my essay; he writes:

Excellent as always, Steve!

Actually, you found the original colonies in Harold Washington Park. They have since multiplied and spread out. There are probably 20 locations within half a mile of there, plus there are now more isolated colonies springing up around the city and suburbs.

They used to capture whole flocks at one time for export back when they were allowed to be shipped into the country. It is thought that a crate got opened at O'Hare Airport back in the '70s. The flock was cohesive, so they all took off together heading in an easterly direction. When they hit Lake Michigan (you can't see across it), they thought it was an ocean or something and just stopped and set up housekeeping on the lake's edge.






















Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Chicago Parrots!

A Hyde Park Quaker Parakeet lifts a large thorny twig up to his nest along the lake
The Hyde Park Parrots are one of Chicago's best-kept secrets.

(Note: This short article article has been supplemented with a more extensive photo-essay on the famous Chicago parrots; click here to read this photo-essay.)

BrooklynParrots.com went to Chicago on Monday; in truth, I had to attend a trade show, but I made sure I got up early and checked out the fabulous wild monk parrots of Hyde Park. Given my hectic schedule, I was only able to spend an hour or so with them, but I got some good photos and an illuminated understanding of their existence in the fabulous city of Chicago. I'll be uploading photos this week; in the meantime, here's a teaser: it shows a Chicago monk airlifting a large twig to one of the monks' incredible tree nests.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Parrots Perch at Brooklyn's Gateway to Eternity

The gorgeous Greenwood Cemetery gate in morning light.
The beautiful Civil War-era gate to Greenwood Cemetery is spectacular in its own right; add vociferous parrots and you've got one of the most sublime, most surreal locales on the planet.

If you've been following this site, you know that I got interested in Monk Parrots after participating in what birders now call the "Great Hawk Nest Crisis of 2004" in which a bunch of billionaires decided to evict Pale Male and Lola from their 5th Avenue perch. I met a lot of interesting people on the protest line, including one woman who insisted that Pale Male and Lola were in fact "spirit guides" who were guarding the Pharaoh's Tomb in the nearby Metropolitan Museum.

I thought this woman was a bit nuts (I mean, hey - they're just birds, albiet magnificent ones!) And I'm still not convinced that our avian friends are in fact the Eyes and Ears of Any Knowable Diety, or that when we talk to them, our words are being transmitted You Know Where. Or that parrots are capable of telepathy. Frankly, I'd prefer that we leave the Supernatural out of this, and just admire the fact that there are so many interesting birds living in our cities, study them if we're so disposed, and offer them kindness when they need our help.

Monk Parrots perch on Greenwood Cemetery's Main Gate
Monk Parrots perch on Greenwood Cemetery's Main Gate, May 7, 2006. Check out the two birds perched at the top - they bear a remarkable resemblence to Gothic cathedral gargolyes, but of course, they're not made of stone!

Still, there are moments when I feel a greater kinship to that wacky woman insisting on this "spirit guide" business than I ordinarily feel comfortable admitting. Take the situation at Greenwood Cemetery, where the Monk Parrots have built elaborate, interwoven nests in, around and through the three spires comprising the beautiful gate. If you show up at the right time, you'll find them perched strategically on the structure, issuing undecodable pronouncements in a foreign tongue, looking amazingly like living, breathing, high-strung gargolyles.

I took this photo this morning -- one of the most beautiful, peaceful Spring days that NYC has yet been graced with this year. I found the Monk Parrots in an agitated, raucous caucus. What were they discussing with such impassioned intent? Are we sure that they are not aware that where they live is the exact site where the quotidian world and the Valhalla world of the spirit world intersect? Of all the places in the neighborhood to settle, can it be mere chance that made them decide that there is no better place to be a parrot than here, nestled deep within Brooklyn's gateway to Eternity?

"Nah" - I say. They're just birds, after all. But, on the other hand, we're just people, aren't we?

(P.S.: there are some good video sequences of the Greenwood Cemetery Parrots on the Animal Planet segment on the Wild Parrots of Brooklyn. Click here to view this video online).

Tough Parrots...

A Tough-looking Monk Parrot In Bay Ridge
A tough-looking Brooklyn Parrot surveys his "Dust Bowl" home in Bay Ridge.

I'm continually amazed at how tough these parrots are, and once in a while, I come up with a photo that captures their inner resilience. This tough-looking monk parrot was spied in Bay Ridge, on Saturday, May 6th. With his back to the truck traffic spewing dark clouds of toxins into the air above the avenue, this tough guy has the blown-about, determined, damn-the-torpedoes look of a seasoned Brooklynite who's endured his share of nicks, dents, cheap shots, and lost chances, but refuses to say Uncle.

This bird knows, because he's been around the block, that this life might not be much to write home about, but that it beats all available alternatives, and that although he and his wild pack of illegal avians doesn't really belong in Brooklyn, they'd belong a heckuva lot less somewhere else. So he takes his lumps, gets a laugh when he can, and makes the best of it.

For more on the Wild Parrots of Bay Ridge, see:

brooklynparrots.com/2006/01/squawking-at-moon-wild-parrots-of-bay.html
brooklynparrots.com/2005/09/photo-essay-wild-parrots-of-bay-ridge.html