UI to Parakeets: You’re OK. Your Nests Gotta Go

by Allan Appel | August 13, 2007 10:50 AM | | Comments (2)

parakeets%20follow%20001.JPGAl Carbone (pictured) says he has nothing against the monk parakeets. He has found himself having to explain that, and a lot else about the bird brouhaha of City Point.

Carbone fields the angry — and sometimes grateful — calls and emails from United Illuminating customers about the monk parakeet nests in the waterfront neighborhood. He also has become acquainted with the parakeets’ special needs.

“Birds,” he said, “have issues.”

The ornithological battle, weighing the safety and needs of customers against the birds’ welfare and environmental concerns, has been engaged for years, ever since the birds found Greater New Haven to be so congenial. The controversy includes a pending 2005 lawsuit against UI by Darien-based Friends of Animals.

UI is on the front lines of the parakeet controversy, not the city government.

Christy Hass, the city’s tree warden at New Haven’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees, said the city had no pending issues with nests in the trees. “Almost all the nests,” she said, “are on UI utility poles, and they have processes and procedures for their removal. I haven’t had to deal with nests in trees.”

parakeets%20follow%20003.JPGKica Matos, the city’s community services director, said she was not aware of specific complaints to her office arising from the monk parakeets’ immigration to New Haven. “If some nests had to be removed from city property, or something had to be done, that would fall to LCI (Livable City Initiative). “For my part,” she added, with a smile, “We’re happy to provide the monk parakeets with municipal ID cards, as long as they provide accurate proof of residence.”

So the Independent sat down with UI’s Carbone to get the company’s current policies and perspectives with regard to myiopsitta monachus:

NHI: So, what is the current policy?
AC: It’s important for the public to understand that our obligation is to our customers, their safety, and, with prices so high, the pocketbook. Because the public pays for the cost of outages caused by the nests. That said, we have nothing against the birds. We have lots of people on staff who love the parakeets. But when you have a 150-pound nest on a transformer, that does push against connections, it leads to fires, to outages, dangerous conditions. We have to attend to that, and that means monitoring and removing the nests.

NHI: How many nests are there?
AC: We’re concerned with the ones on utility poles only, not nests in trees, and in UI’s area, there are about 90, and maybe about 10 on utility poles in New Haven proper. We do a monthly monitoring

NHI: But you don’t touch the birds?
parakeets%20follow%20002.JPGAC: Absolutely not. We’ve been trying to address the problem for about seven years at least. In 2005, after consulting with the United States Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and our colleagues at Florida Light and Power, who have a far worse infestation than we do and who are the experts on the subject, they told us the only solution would be removal, that is capture of the birds. That’s because the birds imprint deeply and when you remove a nest, the birds put them back in the same place very quickly. So in 2005, with those legal entities supporting us, and with, I might add some prestigious wildlife organizations such as Connecticut Audubon Society, we began, carefully, to remove the birds. We were sued, we stopped, and the suit is ongoing. Now we don’t touch the birds ever.

NHI: But you do the nests.
AC: Absolutely. But we’ve learned that during the breeding season, which is about April to September to leave the nests alone, because it’s wasted work. They rebuild, as I say, almost immediately.

NHI: So come September….
AC: So come September, we will remove them all. If the number of nests remain the same, that’ll take a crew about a week to accomplish.

NHI: Fill me in again on the kinds of calls you get, the hazards involved.
AC: These nests run, some of them, 50 to 150 pounds. They separate connections, they cause wires to short out, and in some instances, they cause transformers to topple from poles.

delkab_ave_002.jpgFrom customers’ point of view, that causes shortages, and even outages, and in some instances, they’re life-threatening.
NHI: Such as?
AC: There’s one customer who’s on a life support system at home, electrically powered. And they have a nest on the pole outside their home. When they call, that nest is removed regardless of the time of year. Period. And we’ve been lucky there. The birds have not rebuilt.

NHI: I assume that while the lawsuit is pending, you and others are trying to figure a way that will work to get the birds to stay away from the poles.
AC: Absolutely. We’ve tried all kinds of things …..mirrors, and effigies, and sprays, and whatnot. We’ve been working closely with Florida Light and Power, and they have tried everything. There’s a company in Florida, Pandion, working on this because it’s an issue nationally. Believe me, when I get a call from somebody, whether it’s an inventor with a new repellent, or a bird psychic, I refer them to Pandion. I can’t emphasize enough that back in 2005 when we captured the birds, that was in collaboration with USDA and DEP and bird experts. We didn’t “gas” them, as some people said, among the hundreds of crazy emails and calls we received. Our role was to work with USDA and DEP and hand them to the bird experts there. True, they were taken to Massachusetts and then beyond, maybe to Florida, and euthanized. But that had nothing to do with UI. In 2005, removal of the birds was the only solution at the time. We’re hoping for something better to come along, of course. But that’s going to have to work for all of us.

NHI: Meaning what?
AC: Meaning any solution is going to have to be humane, environmentally OK, and affordable. We’re a regulated company. Whatever we do, you, the public pays. When we have to go and remove nests or repair outages caused by the birds, who pays? And with rates already high. One recent possible solution involved a test of spraying the poles, all the poles, with this chemical. It would have costs $100,000, and the spray might have gone onto lawns and driveways. From a cost point of view —- customers would have to pay! — and others, it made no sense.
You know when people think of UI, apart from bird stories?

NHI: Tell me.
AC: They think of UI only on two occasions: when they pay their bill and when their lights go out. And, frankly, reliability is a huge thing for us, so the power does not go out. We can’t control lightning, and we can’t control weather, but we can control these nests, that is, it would benefit all of us if we could. That’s the challenge.

NHI: If USDA and DEP gave you the guidance in capturing the birds in 2005, why weren’t they also targets of the lawsuit?
AC: I couldn’t answer that. We were just following their guidance and procedures. It’s unfair to characterize it as UI versus the birds. I could show you articles, stories. In one instance, for example, Priscilla Feral, of Friends of Animals, asserted the outages might have been caused not by the parakeets but by squirrels. But we responded that while squirrels do make nests, they would have bitten through wire insulations, and that usually doesn’t happen. It’s the weight, the size, the pressure. We know that’s going to cause problems. We monitor our equipment, we try to head off problems before they happen. And if you have 150 pounds on a pole, something’s going to happen, and it does. So if a customer calls and we sense there are problems with fires, safety, whatever, and the nest is big enough, we will remove the nest.

NHI: Describe what people will see in mid-September when your crew take on all the 90 or 100 nests in the area?
AC: They’re all trained. The line crews wear masks, gloves, special equipment. They drive up in a big yellow trucks and they can make noise too. The birds fly away. We never touch the birds. That’s illegal, although I should say that these birds have issues too.

NHI: Birds have “issues”? Please explain
AC: I mean they’re really not protected by laws and so forth. Still we don’t ever touch them. When the nest is empty, it’s dropped to the ground, and we have landscape crews below, who dispose of them. I can’t tell you how much UI wants to find a non-lethal, cost-effective way not to have to keep doing this!

NHI: Any nest-caused outages recently?
AC: I think in July in West Haven, but as I say we do monthly audits of the location and size, and all the nests will come down in the first or second week of September.

(A call to Friends of Animals for a comment on the recently pushed back lawsuit and on UI’s positions on the matter was not responded to by press time.)

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Posted by: erick wolf | August 13, 2007 12:31 PM

Why not put the birds on birth control like pigeons?

Posted by: MATT BREISCH [TypeKey Profile Page] | August 15, 2007 9:44 AM

Isn't there a way to put simple cages around the transformers?

Or, run all electrical underground. I have not been living here long enough, but didn't "the public" pay to have all the wires put underground in wealthy areas?

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