Noisy new immigrants have been flocking to the Hill, putting up homes in woodsy — uh, very woodsy — one-room condos high above historic City Point.
Who wouldn’t want a rustic room, surrounded by spectacular greenery and panoramic harbor views during all the seasons of the year? Utilities included, of course. Lots of utilities. Although the property is not particularly convenient to mass transit, that shouldn’t be an obstacle, for you probably should have wings if you’re considering joining this ornithological condo association, for all the members are myiopsitta monachus, or monk parakeets.
Originally from South America, these immigrants likely escaped their cages a number of years ago, and have noisily settled in the trees and atop the utilities poles at various locations in City Point and in West Haven.
After receiving a number of urgent and confidential reports that the parakeets (a parakeet is a small member of the parrot or Psittaciformes zoological order) have been particularly noisy and – this the most troubling part – they have been extending their condos, one nest above the next, nests in fact one atop the other in a kind of tenement for birds – and doing this all without going through any human channels whatsoever, which has given rise among some New Haveners to Hitchcockian nightmares, the Independent decided it was high time to send its crack ornithological investigative team to see what was up.
To see, in fact, what was up, way up, at the corner of Howard Avenue and Sea Streets, which seems to be the epicenter of the parakeet action.
There Cliff Drye, who himself works high up, as a house painter, which perhaps gives him an affinity for the birds, was happy to give a tour of the various nests in the area around Howard, Sea, and Greenwich Streets. “Oh they do chitchat a lot,” he said. “Pretty noisy, but I don’t mind”.
The people I’m painting for, in that house there,” and he pointed to a large white structure, the top floors amid the branches and quite close to the monk parrot nests, “they love the birds too. They feed them. No problem. Oh look!”
And then Drye turned around and we followed a flight of sparrows to the underparts of the nests. “The sparrows seem to live there, beneath the nests,” he surmised. “The parrots of course also use the transformers in winter. But during the warm weather, they prefer the trees. They’re always talking.”
Not everyone, of course, was so sympathetic. As he scanned the trees for another nest, this local resident, who owns several houses in the area and preferred not to be identified, expressed the desire, to put it diplomatically, that the monk parrots would please be “relocated.” He complained that the monk parakeets’ chatter was really disturbing. It was not only loud and raucous early and late and in fact at differing times during the day, but there was something about the tone. Could he describe it?
“Well, it’s not chitchat, it’s not warbling at all like the other birds. No, it’s like they’re fighting all the time, it’s like constant squabbling.”
Given the fact that these birds are known to mimic human speech, was it possible the birds were picking up some community squabbling down below?
The neighbor had no comment on that question. He however did say that in his view the parrots have had the effect of driving out the sweeter sounding, more genteel birds such as the cardinals and even the blue jays, no wallflowers themselves, with their aggressive behavior.
Was there a kind of prejudice being expressed here against these immigrants from tropical and semitropical lands? Should the city consider a kind of ornithological version of the municipal i.d. so that the monk parakeets feel more welcome? Again no comment.
The man did say, however, that among the several houses he owns in the area, noise is a serious problem, and not only from the birds. The boom boxes, he said, blaring from cars racing down Howard Avenue (he described a fatal traffic accident at Howard and Sea not many months ago), are often so loud they make his house rattle. He has soundproofed one and is considering the same for another.
Is it possible the monk parakeets chose an area to settle in where they had already detected considerable human noise, and simply made the logical decision that they, with their own raucous ways, might be welcome?
That and other serious questions were put to the Independent‘s temporary, part time, pressed-into-service bird consultant, Mark Aronson (pictured), whose day job is chief paintings conservator for the Yale Center for British Art.
“I couldn’t comment on your first fairly ridiculous question,” he said, “and since I haven’t gotten down to City Point, I can’t be 100% sure they’re monk parakeets, because there are, you know, other similar birds around, and the sound of the birds isn’t completely definitive for identification. But having said that, it’s 999 out of a 1000 these are monk parakeets. As a birder you don’t even have to look up to identify them when you hear them. And it’s hardly only at City Point. You run into them up and down the shoreline; there is a flock at Short Beach in Branford, some at Fort Nathan Hale, a group along the West Haven shore, and elsewhere.
“About them people often do ask how these birds, who are from warm climates, survive up here. People should remember that there are high mountains in South America too, so the birds know what they’re doing. They build huge communal nesting structures out of twigs and branches and, as you see, are fond of erecting them on telephone and other utility poles.
“And don’t forget that when the issue of cold comes up in relation to tropical birds, one forgets, or does not know, that North America did once upon a time have its own abundant parakeet, the Carolina Parakeet, which apparently did not range as far north as New England, but was certainly found in New York State.”
And what happened to them?
“Well, they obviously knew how to deal with the cold too, but not with the destruction of sycamore and cypress forests, nor the front end of a shot gun. The last one went dead in about 1918 or thereabouts.”
The little battle between those deeply enchanted and those deeply irritated continues. The Howard Street resident who has soundproofed his house said he was also keenly aware of the parakeets’ nesting habits on top of the transformers. Who could not be aware of this, especially, he said, when they cause transformer fires the nests are so large. “I kid you not,” he added. “Knocked out power to a couple of houses in the area, more than once. As I say, relocate those birds.”
This, of course, is no laughing matter, and it has been referred to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, by both sides, on a number of occasions, particularly in connection with United Illuminating’s effort to eliminate the birds from its utilities poles in New Haven, West Haven, and other nearby towns.. Click here to read an article on the subject in the Register of a few years ago.
Aronson also provided the Independent with the following link: Click here for a petition to the state DEP and other organizations against the extermination of the birds.
And click here, to read more about these birds and see pictures of the monk parakeets of Milford.