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Photo Essay Wild Parrots Of Brooklyn

The best guess on their citywide population is around 550, though biologists say bird counts often capture just a tenth of their true totals. The parrots have set up colonies in at least 10 states, including Florida, Texas, Illinois and Oregon. They dappled European skies, breeding in England and Spain.

“Chances are they’ve got inroads in Asia that we just don’t get reports of,” said Frank W. Grasso, a scientist at Brooklyn College who has studied the parrots for 12 years. “They have a kind of resilience that allows them to colonize lots of locations, a lot like human beings.”

But they clearly feel at home in Queens. They have raised their young here. Survived epic storms. And steadily increased their numbers.

“When the sun starts coming up, you hear them chirping and chirping,” Stanley Rea, 58, said as he made his predawn rounds delivering newspapers last week on the street where Elvis lives.

“The way they build their nests is amazing,” Mr. Rea said. “They pluck branches from one tree and they fly to their nests and they set them in there. It’s pretty cool.”

Ornithologists think so, too.

Of 320 parrot species worldwide, the monks — so named for the way their gray-and-green plumage paints a hood over their heads — are the only ones that forgo tree hollows to build their own nests: huge, multichambered shelters people compare to condominiums. They live there all year long. They have a capacity to mimic, but mostly call to one another in a high-pitched chatter that can rattle people’s nerves. They can live for 30 years.

Of the roughly 30 species of parrots now breeding in the United States, only monks colonize in colder climates, and thus are “the only ones in New York City,” said Stephen Pruett-Jones, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, who has studied them in Hyde Park for 25 years.

The first published citing of the species (Myiopsitta monachus) in the wild in America was in New York in 1967, he said. Newspaper accounts put them in Chicago the following year, and in Florida in 1969.

By 1970, there was the odd parrot sighting in New York: a few at Riis Park, a handful in the Rockaways, some more on Staten Island. A nest, but no birds, was found in Central Park, in a broken floodlight behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Their locations were pinpointed, but it was less clear how they got here. No biologist believes they flew here on their own.

Some take Ms. Lynch’s view: They escaped from the airport. Others see less swashbuckling beginnings: Owners sick of their rasping cries set them free. Marc Morrone, who owns Parrots of the World, a pet store in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, says neither explanation is valid. The airport story is an “old wives’ tale,” he said, because shipping containers do not tend to break, and the birds make “wonderful” pets, so why would anyone set them free?

Besides, he said, monk parrots that have lived in the wild are not the same as the pet store variety. “The ones we sell as pets are domesticated,” Mr. Morrone said. “They don’t think like the wild birds do. They are smaller than the wild birds. With a domesticated animal, we control its genes.”

Indeed, the wild parrots, with their acute social skills, have expanded their turf, locally and nationwide, said Dr. John W. Rowden, an ornithologist with the National Audubon Society, who cited data from the organization’s Christmas bird count.

Today in Brooklyn, their pile-of-twig nests are built in the iron gates of Green-Wood Cemetery. They have made homes in Upper Manhattan and amid the trees in Riverside Park. They are in Whitestone and Flushing, Queens. They have built nests in Edgewater, N.J., in the slopes along River Road, an undulating bicycle path in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, said Corey Finger, of Forest Hills, Queens, a co-owner of the birding blog 10,000 Birds.

But Queens has extended the birds perhaps the biggest welcome.

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., who can see one of their nests from the windows of his district office in Howard Beach, is pushing two bills he introduced in 2010 to protect the parrots (also known as parakeets), though neither has passed. One would put them in a protected category. The other would require their nests be handled with care if they have to be moved. The senator says seeing the “green, rather large, rather unique-sounding parakeet” among pigeons fascinates New Yorkers.

However, not everyone is as enamored of them. In Argentina, “they are reported to be an agricultural pest,” Dr. Pruett-Jones said. In this country, they are considered a “nuisance species,” he said, and have caused economic trouble in Florida, Texas and elsewhere because they build nests around heat-emitting transformers atop utility poles. Several states, including California, have outlawed parrot breeding and importing them as pets.

In New York, too, nests have caused transformers to catch fire, said Michael S. Clendenin, a spokesman for Con Edison. But crews that service the power lines now take extra care.

“They’ve learned to work around them,” Mr. Clendenin said. “If there are chicks or eggs in there, they’ll hire a contractor to take it down appropriately.”

The ready heat supply has helped the parrots survive in New York as well as backyard gardens, the parrots’ smorgasbord. They eat grass blades, dandelion seeds, holly berries, native leaf and fruit buds or suburban ornamental fruits like crab apples. In the winter, they help themselves at backyard bird feeders. They feed their young insects.

On 99th Street in Howard Beach — a street along a canal leading from Jamaica Bay — Mr. Rea said there seemed to be fewer pests since the parrots gained a foothold.

As Mr. Rea drove, he passed several nests, including the one Elvis lived in until a year ago, when Alex Breviario, 34, discovered him limping in the street beneath his nest, scooped him up and gave him to Ms. Lynch.

As Ms. Lynch told Elvis’s story, she recounted her father’s tale of finding a crate full of parakeets on an airport road. He took it home.

The following Monday he returned it, but not before Ms. Lynch let the birds out to fly all over the house for the weekend. (She is careful to say that they were all rounded up and put back in the crate.)

“They got here from J.F.K.,” Ms. Lynch said. “That’s how they started.”

If her father found one crate full of parrots gone astray, there had to be other such mishaps.

Friends who worked at Pan Am tended to have escaped parrots as pets, she said.

Elvis, in his cage by the windows facing his relatives in the nest outside, was speaking, too.

“He calls to them,” Ms. Lynch said. “They talk to him. And if he’s in a mood, he won’t stop.”

Continue reading the main story

05-22-2007, 11:00 PM
Photo-Essay: Wild Parrots at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery Thriving in Sprin...

Photo-Essay: Wild Parrots at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery Thriving in Spring...

The wild parrots of Green-Wood Cemetery live in exquisitely beautiful, yet perilous surroundings, given the presence of multiple predators, ranging from Red-Tailed Hawks to Kestrels and American Crows, each of which represents a threat to this small but thriving wild parrot community. We've discussed "The Green-Wood Gang" of parrots before, and thought it was time for a new photo-essay based on new photos I've taken in the past several weeks. Enjoy (click on any image for an enlarged view)!

In May, there are already young babies in the Quaker Parrots' enormous nests, so the female parrots generally spend their time inside taking care of their newborns. Consequently, you're likely to find more males than females foraging on the grounds and ferrying twigs to and fro from trees. Here, we see a male heading out to liberate some thorny twigs from a local cherry tree.

Quaker Parrots are very picky about the twigs they select for nest building. Only the finest lumber is selected to be part of their homes!

Quakers can put a lot of pressure at their disposal when they clip a twig. If you stand below a bunch of them working on a tree, it sounds like a bunch of toe-clippers being operated high above.

This little parrot has his heart set on trimming a twig which is more than a quarter-inch thick.

At last - Twig Liberation!

Once the twig is separated from the tree, the heavy air-lifting begins. At Green-Wood Cemetery, Quakers often ferry these heavy twigs more than a hundred yards to their destinations high atop the entrance gate.

Life is good for the Quaker Parrots in Spring. Delicious Cherry and Horse Chestnut blossoms are available in quantity, but life is hardly a bowl of cherry blossoms, because there are plenty of predators around to spoil the party.

Most bothersome are the crows, which show up in gangs in the morning, and attempt to break into the Quaker Parrots nests (to eat the eggs). The parrots attempt to thwart this threat by deliberately concealing the eggs in convoluted passageways within the nest.

Giant hawks pose a deadly threat to all the "prey" animals at Green-Wood Cemetery. Swiftly, silently, a Red-Tailed Hawk soars overhead like the Avenging Angel of Death.

This hawk, nick-named "Johannas," who makes his nest high above the Catacombs, is the most powerful bird in the area, and all lesser animals in the Cemetery must cower in terror of his awesome powers.

Except the monk parrots! Although they know they can't confront the Red-Tail directly, the parrots do have the power of raising the alarm so that the other animals can escape. "TAKE COVER!" yells this monk parrot. "THIS IS NOT A DRILL!"

This squirrel, if he's wise, will heed the Monk Parakeet's alarm call.

This robin has less to worry about than the squirrel (unless the hawk is VERY hungry today).

The same is true of this diminuitive local bird, who's too small to represent more than appetizer value on the hawk's rich menu. Still, no animal is completely safe when the Hawk is on patrol.

Once the danger has passed and "All Clear" is signaled by the parrots, one can often find the Monk Parrots foraging in the grass. Males will "chow down" for a good long time, and then feed their mates when they return to the nest.

Most of the time, the foraging males get along, but sometimes small "rumbles" break out. Here, two Quaker Parrots are in "get your beak out of my face" mode.

Many visitors to Green-Wood Cemetery leave small decorations at the graves of their departed loved ones. This grave is decorated with a parrot, which looks a bit like the real ones gracing the Cemetery.

Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place of Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA and a true friend to animals. I'm sure Henry would be glad to know that the animals in the Cemetery are doing as well as they are today.

Whether you're parrot-watching, bird-watching, or just in the mood to enjoy the architecture, Green-Wood Cemetery is a must-stop. It's easy to visit on your own, or you can visit it during our next Wild Parrot Safari in Brooklyn, which happens every month.

(P.S.: Do you recognize the parrot in the photo above? I think he's the very same bird featured in a Photo-Essay done last year entitled "The New Boids in Town: Wild Baby Quakers Storm Brooklyn." Check out

for comparison. Congratulations on surviving your first mean New York winter, kid!)

For more info on the Green-Wood Cemetery Parrots, please see:

The Greenwood Cemetery Parrots

Hawk Attack in Brooklyn!

The New Boids in Town (Wild Baby Quakers Storm Brooklyn)

Check Out These Industrious Brooklyn Monk Parakeets!

The hard working Quaker Parrot is definitely the Master Architect of the Bird world, and this short online video, by fellow parrot-watcher Stark, provides a delightful look at nest-building in Brooklyn. Stark has a bunch of cool online videos, and we encourage you to check them out.

Last edited by Administrator; 05-23-2007 at 11:37 AM..

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