Thursday, December 14, 2006

Monk Parrots, aka Monk Parakeets, at Sebago Canoe Club

And now, back to a happier subject.

This is a picture of pair of Monk (or Quaker) Parakeets (or Parrots), who appear to be investigating the transformer box outside of the Sebago Canoe Club as a possible nest sight. Of COURSE I had to take their picture!

Just call me a pa"parrot"zi...

(oooh, I am soooo sorry, I just couldn't resist)

Flocks of these birds are curious, but not uncommon, sights in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I see them (and hear them, they have typical parrot voices) fairly regularly in the morning as I'm walking to the subway station, and it's very odd to see a bird that looks like it should be living in a jungle, or on a veldt, flying over the local bagel shops, bodegas, and 99 cent stores.

The generally accepted story of the parrots' introduction to Brooklyn is that the founding flock escaped from a broken crate at John F. Kennedy airport sometime in the 60's. Originally bound for the pet market, the escapees, like so many other immigrants, found the city to be a hospitable enough environment that they were able to make a place for themselves, and thrive. You can spot the enormous, shaggy-looking nests that colonies of the birds build on utility poles all over Brooklyn.

Being absolutely adorable-looking little critters, they are immensely popular in the borough - far, far more than 2 other, commoner, introduced birds, pigeons and starlings, both of whom suffer the dual disadvantages of being far more common and far less cute. A recent outbreak of parakeet-poaching raised a local outcry, and even drew the ire of Borough President Marty Markowitz - you can read the story as reported by here.

But although even the Brooklyn "beep" may be a high-profile supporter, the A-#1 fan of the birds has almost got to be Steve Baldwin, webmaster of the website. He blogs about them, he photographs them, he tapes them, he writes poetry about them, he sings about them, and even he leads Parrot Safaris (the next one is on January 7th and if you'd like to join the Lincoln Karim of the King's County psittacine set on a parrot-watching adventure, you can find full information on his December 12th post).

Steve's site has a lot of information, all from the point of view of the ultimate parrot enthusiast. I also found a more balanced view of the species at the website of the University of Tennessee's Institute for Biological Invasion, which named the Monk Parakeet as Invader of the Month for December 2000. I'd actually found this one back when I first saw a flock of monk parakeets in my neighborhood & found myself wanting to know more. Now, "Invader of the Month" may sound like a thoroughly condemnatory title, but they actually didn't come down all that hard on the birds at all - in fact I found it a rather interesting & reasonably well-balanced article. I have found myself wondering if they'd still be considered cute they ever got up to the numbers that the 2 other introduced species I mentioned earlier, pigeons and starlings, and this article does give you some ideas about that.

Speaking of starlings, I stumbled across an interesting National Geographic article while doing a little background research - I knew starlings were an introduced, invasive species, but I didn't know that all the starlings in the country are descendants of one flock that wasreleased in Central Park in 1890 by a well-meaning Shakespeare fanatic. Wow.

At any rate - although I can't quite work up complete, unalloyed enthusiasm for an introduced species, even a cute one (I think people who've spent much time living in Hawaii end up with a basic distrust of non-native species - that is because so many introductions out there have had such bad results for the local flora & fauna, you grow up hearing about it, it's something that's taken quite seriously out there) - when I got out of Stevie's car to open the gate last Sunday morning, heard that distinctive chatter, looked up at the transformer box, and what was going on, my first thought was "Well, it would be interesting to have our very own resident parrots". When we came back at the end of the day, there was no sign of them, so maybe they decided it wasn't quite right - but they're definitely around & if they do happen to decide to settle in, the club is going offer some interesting parrot-watching opportunities, on top of all the other advantages I've been enjoying.

In addition to all the various articles & websites I used, which I linked to, thank you Stevie & Adele for filling me in on the parrot poaching - you were the first people from whom I'd heard a word about that!

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