Despite Kestrel drama, Green-Wood wild parrot flock looks good

Two weeks ago I made my way out to Green-Wood Cemetery, the best place to see the wild parrots in Brooklyn. I showed up around 3:00 PM and was disappointed to see no parrots around the main gate. I did, however, see something that greatly disturbed me: a pair of American Kestrels were hanging around the gate; one of them (see photos) appeared to have actually taken up residence in one of the parrots’ nest entry portals.

American Kestrels are magnificent birds, but I’m not sure the parrots have much use for them.
Visitor or squatter?

Later, a group of three parrots showed up, and one of the kestrels dove at them, driving them off.

The trio vanished, time ticked on, and not a sound was heard in the sky. I waited for at least an hour but saw zero parrots and a dark thought occurred: could these two predators have single handedly wiped out the entire flock? Did I just see the last three survivors in retreat? Or, due to their forbidding presence, had the larger group of parrot decided to abandon the cemetery, perhaps seeking temp quarters in the surrounding neighborhood or in the Con Ed substation across the street?

I left the cemetery that day feeling defeated and disturbed, but returned one week later, Saturday, September 4th. On this day, the kestrel was briefly seen, but far away from the parrot nest. The parrots did not appear until sunset — about 5 PM this time of year — but when they returned, it became clear to me that the flock, numbering 27, was intact.

The parrots may be elusive during most of the day at Green-Wood, but the flock appears intact!
I counted 27 birds in this photo — there may be a few more hanging out but 27 is a good number!

The first nesting Monk Parakeets seen in Connecticut in 1971 shared quarters with an owl. Perhaps the kestrels are merely stopping by (I mean, how could one resist inspecting such a structure?)

At this time of year, the parrots like to gather at the 5th Avenue side of the cemetery just before sunset. You might even be able to capture a few portraits if you’re set up with the light at the right angle.

I’d encourage anyone seeking to view the parrots in NYC to visit Green-Wood Cemetery. Try to get there before sunset. The parrots seem to spend most of their daylight hours away from the cemetery, returning just before sunset to feed on several trees near the 5th Avenue side before returning to their communal nests to bed down for the evening.

Monk parakeets in Israel!

Unlike many of my friends and family, I’ve never visited Israel, but learning via the Jewish News Syndicate that these doughty birds have made a foothold there gives me an incentive to think about future travel plans to the region.

How established are the monks? According to a 2016 research article titled Unrelenting spread of the alien monk parakeet Myiopsitta monachus in Israel. Is it time to sound the alarm?, they began arriving in the mid 1990s and their population has grown to some 1,500 birds, with 87 urban nests located in the city of Tel Aviv, making Israel’s population of monks the second-largest in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin (Spain’s population of monks is approximately 20,000; by comparison, the total wild monk population in the entire U.S. is approximately 5,000 birds).

Unfortunately, as is so often the case with these wild parrots, the “alarm” referenced in the article’s title appears close to being sounded. The article notes that the Mediterranean Basin’s generally warm climate is close to perfect for the birds in terms of year-round food availability, and that lately the birds have been seen in more agricultural and semi-agricultural areas, which means that conflict with farmers seems almost inevitable in the future.

While it appears that no one in Israel is currently calling for any kind of lethal measures to be taken against the parrots (such as unfortunately happened in the U.S.A. back in the 1970s), any brewing parrot-farmer conflict runs the risk of escalating. Nor does the paper have any kind words for urban monks: “Most of the new alien populations appear in large cities, where they may not only cause damage in parks, gardens and orchards but can also damage human infrastructure, building their bulky communal nests on utility poles).They are also sometimes perceived as a new source of noise pollution.”

Fortunately, the research paper’s authors do not recommend that any rash steps be taken against the birds. Instead, they advise that that any actions be “cautious” and that, “building on the expertise gained from monk parakeet management programmes such as the ones carried out in the United States, we advocate that, especially in agricultural areas, cautious mitigation actions be urgently implemented in order to reduce population growth and range expansion rates.

The report further recommends that “prior to implementing such campaigns, we would recommend conducting a feasibility study of the current situation that takes different aspects of biological invasions into account, including a cost-benefit analysis, an assessment of the feasibility of the measures proposed and a strategy for consulting and engaging public opinion, given that monk parakeets are often positively regarded by the citizens.

Despite the above referenced report’s somewhat alarming title, I am encouraged its cautious tone and recommend that anyone interest in wild monk parakeets read it.

I’d also like to recommend that officials, in Israel, Spain, and in other places where the monks reside take a strong cue from New York City. While some have complained about the parrots over the years, others greatly appreciate them — including the local government. Back in the 2010s Birdie the monk parakeet became the symbolic face of “Green NYC,” a high-profile initiative of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. Although Birdie was eventually retired as the Office’s official mascot, the Mayor’s Office remains interested in — and is highly protective of — the birds living within the City.

To many, the fact that there are wild parrots living in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, and dozens of other improbable places is a small miracle; I’m sure that many folks in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel feel the same way. Let us hope that any problems caused by the parrots can be resolved in the same spirit we find here in Brooklyn and in other places in America where the parrots have lived for a long time.

Apologies for being AWOL

I apologize for being unable to do any parrot safaris in recent months. Without getting into too many details, I was overtaken by a mysterious malady late in 2019 that greatly impaired my mobility. It was a frightening experience but I am glad to say that I am getting better and recovering my ability to move around, and hope to restart the safaris again soon.

For those seeking to view the parrots independently, I would highly recommend making your way to Green-Wood Cemetery, in Brooklyn. Just take the R train to the 25th Street stop (in Brooklyn) and walk one block. The parrots have built enormous nests atop the beautiful Gothic entrance way, and are highly active in the mornings and late afternoons. The Cemetery’s management regards the parrots with great affection and does its utmost to protect them. To my knowledge, this is the only site in New York State (and possibly the entire U.S.A.) in which wild Quaker Parrots actually enjoy some protection!

Lenora Todaro on the Monks of Brooklyn

I had the recent pleasure of accompanying writer Lenora Todaro on a trip to Green-Wood Cemetery to see the wild parrots. She interviewed a bunch of New Yorkers — including myself — on what these interesting interlopers are up to, and what they can teach us about living in New York City. Lenora’s well-written, thought-provoking article, published to the Catapult Website, was published today.

For The Birds: The Story of Canada’s Largest Animal Rescue Endeavor – a film by Ben Life

What happens when a well-intended effort to provide refuge for hundreds of abandoned, abused, and displaced birds falls apart due to the refuge owner’s death?

Ben Life’s film tells the story of a how a heart-breaking situation was ultimately averted by the heroic efforts of a team of volunteers participating in what would become known as Canada’s largest animal rescue effort.

If you’re feeling pessimistic these days about the human race, watch Ben’s film.

Brooklyn Parrots eBook is out

I recently had the opportunity to give a talk for Phoenix Landing — an all-volunteer organization dedicated to the well-being of parrots that’s based in Asheville, North Carolina. During the Q&A, a gentleman in the audience asked me where he could find my book, and I then realized that it’s almost impossible to find it, unless one goes to and types “brooklyn parrots” into the search bar.  So here’s a direct link to the one and only Brooklyn Parrots FAQ, authored by yours truly. It’s electronic (I may do a hard copy version in the future but this will have to do for now), priced at a rock-bottom $4.99, and available now. If you’d like to support my free safaris in Brooklyn, buying the book will help (just click on the image).