Attack Of The Parakeets

IMG_2272.JPGNoisy 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.

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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.

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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.”

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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?

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Comments

posted by: Bruce on August 8, 2007  1:31pm

Sorry to sound cynical, but where are the petitions for humane relocation of rats or mice.  People routinely tent buildings and fill them with poisonous gases.  Monk parakeets are just cuter, I suppose.

posted by: on whalley on August 8, 2007  1:39pm

So, is it that we have brought the birds here and now owe them reparations or that they have come uninvited to drain our resources? Are they here unnaturally such as the white man on this continent and must be exterminated or is no life illegal and they should be given free college educations and healthcare?

Seriously though, if they cause some sort of ecological harm or massive crop destruction being not of this land then I suppose measures similar to what Florida has been going through for decades trying to combat the ever growing population of peoples escaped designer pets would be justified. But which is more costly: ridding the region of a species or repairing the occasional transformer blowout? It doesnt matter. Our taxes will go up regardless and the move to regulate utilities will move forward.

You shouldnt have birds as pets anyway. Oh look how pretty, lets put it in a small cage and clip its wings. Just shoot and stuff it why dont you. If you eat its eggs Id be okay with it as a pet. C’mon, make a parakeet omlett. The damn things cost hundred of dollars and live longer than their owners. Just what Id like to inherit. A caged bird with little to no resale value. Great.

posted by: KAM B on August 9, 2007  5:51am

These birds should be refered to as “Undocumented Flyers.” I think we should give them ID cards so they dont have to hide in the shadows of telephone poles, and live on the outside fringe of society. Lets welcome these undocumented birds to the Elm City and make them feel welcome.

posted by: Dominic Giulietti on August 9, 2007  9:05am

Great article.well written Allan..We, wife and I, live in the house Cliff was painting..Love that timely immigration twist to the story.
We enjoy them. We do indeed feed them especially in winter. Everyone is entitled to thier own opinions I tend to subscribe to that old saying.
AFTER A RAIN STORM SOME LOOK AT THE MUD WHILE OTHERS LOOK AT THE RAINBOW.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on August 9, 2007  10:57pm

Dominic Giulietti’s sentiments sum it up succinctly.  There are FAR greater problems in this City then the monk parrot’s noise.  After U.I.‘s enormous rate increase this year, perhaps they should be addressing the question of why their grid is dangerously overloaded every summer (i.e., what are we paying for?), instead of helping to eradicate a species. The solution should be obvious.  Clean the nests (if necessary, repeatedly) without killing the birds, in the hope they they might relocate to taller trees in the area.  God knows, with what we’re paying on our UI bills, they should be able to accomplish this.  Cash is tight?  Eliminate all the junk filler/company propaganda you send in my bill every month. I don’t need you to tell me how to save energy costs, I need you to keep your rates logical.  Which they aren’t.

But, back to my original thought, Domenic G. is a very caring man.  I had dealings with his professional side some 20 years ago and found him to be a very thoughtful, educated man. His aspect on this situation should be taken under the wing, so to speak.

posted by: PAW on August 10, 2007  7:35am

FIRST: Great story; thanks Allan!

SECOND: Let’s remember that the poor creatures never asked to come here in the first place so why should they be punished? Punish the people who trade in exotic birds!!

(SIDE COMMENT) Ever wonder about these creeps who trade in birds. They say they “love” birds. So what do they do. They pull them out of the sky, stick them in a little box and then deliberately cripple them “for their own good”. Ever read Stephen King’s book MISERY? Ever hear the term “Free as a dog?” or “Free as a cat?” or is it “Free as a bird?” Ever wonder why they say that?

The way I see it if you have to cripple something to keep it as a pet then maybe there is a great indication there that the creature is not really suitable as a pet!!! Heck, now they breed birds that do not even know they can fly. Let’s breed people that don’t know they can walk!!!!! Isn’t love strange? What price beauty!!!

(Apologies to all those of you who have birds as pets. I live with one as well. I love it like a child. I adopted it as it was going to be put to sleep. Its caretakers were tired of it!!?? It can not be free but it does have free range of my home in full flight. It is the best I can do in a bad situation. I love the little guy but I still say it is against nature to keep them as pets!)

THIRD: (Tirade over)CT Monks have never proved to be the agricultural pests that we are told they are or will be. Just fear mongering for personal reasons!

FOURTH: Mr Woodson and his band of merry murderers should spend more time attending to his poles. If the poles were properly maintained, that is part of what your UI Fees are for, the birds would not have a chance to build on the poles. The blood money spent on murdering these innocents could be better used to help the elderly and fixed income people with their escalating electric bills. Ever see Mr. Woodson’s Bonus??

FIFTH: If you want to help the Monks/Quakers or any parrot for that matter, get in touch with Marc or Karen at FosterParrots.com in Rockland, MA. They are very knowledgeable and willing to share this knowledge. They love Parrots and do great work on their behalf. Thanks Marc and Karen!

Allan, Thanks again for a wonderful story about a great survivor whose only real crime was to be born to a species that man finds beautiful!!

Regards

The BohemianGuy

posted by: erick wolf on August 10, 2007  10:36am

The community may want to consider contraception for the birds, the same program used now in pigeons.