Texas is no stranger to the Monk Parakeet. The state has had the bird on its official State Bird List since 1991, and the Audubon Society recently counted 445 in the state. Wild colonies have been reported in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and other localities.
This is a huge deal in the parrot world because Night Parrots (Pezoporus occidentalis) have been almost impossible to photograph — or even see — by humans, with none being visually identified between 1912 and 1979. In the past few years, however, more evidence has accumulated suggesting that this nocturnal, ground-walking, grass-eating parrot, once thought to be extinct, is still alive, although its current population is thought to be as small as 50 birds.
In 2013, the Night Parrot was photographed for the first time, leading to worldwide media coverage, plus concern among naturalists that this extraordinary discovery might lead to unauthorized human attempts to view the animal, thus disrupting the bird’s routine and possibly endangering its existence, which remains precarious due to feral cats, fires, and other hazards.
For this reason the precise location of the Night Parrot has been kept a secret for the past two years. Explorer John Young, who in May 2013 photographed the Night Parrot a few minutes after midnight, is on record as saying he would “rather go to jail than tell anyone where I found it,” according to The Australian newspaper. “The last thing I want to see is hundreds of people out there with night lights,” said Young.
Note: the wild parrots found in Brooklyn are not nocturnal and are only active during normal business (8 am to 6 pm) hours. Any loud birds observed outside after dark are probably Mockingbirds, not parrots.
Talking parrots feature prominently in a provocative art exhibit opening this week at Miami’s Perez Art Museum, according a recent article at ArtNetNews. The parrots — two African Greys and two double yellow-headed Amazons, were trained by Rotterdam-based artists Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol to recite T.S. Elliot’s “The Wasteland” from perches housed within an aviary ” furnished with a jumble of sculptural letters that spell out the terms “global warming,” “climate change,” and “sustainability.””
Parrots have often been subjects for significant art, including Edouard Manet’s “Woman With Parrot,” 1866 (AKA “Young Lady 1866”), part of the Metropolitan Museum’s permanent collection. In commentary on the painting, art historian Mona Hadler discusses the respect accorded to parrots — especially fluent speakers such as the African Grey — throughout Western history: “In the time of Augustus Caesar parrots were taught to chant together “Ave Caesar.” In the Middle Ages this became associated with “Ave Maria,” and ultimately the parrot became a symbol of the perpetual virginity of the Virgin.”
In the seventeenth century, parrots often found their way into Dutch and Flemish masterworks. “During the nineteenth century,” Hadler writes, “parrots were esteemed for their intelligence and anthropomorphic qualities. In France they were common pets, prized above all, according to the Larousse –-a basic source on nineteenth century customs and ideas-for their ability to imitate the human voice.” “Some believed so strongly in the mental facility of parrots,” she continues, “that they consulted parrots on their affairs, even having them select lottery numbers.”
In the new exhibition in Miami, entitled Speechless, the quartet of speaking parrots will have a prominent and deliberately provocative role. According to the exhibit notes, “the work was inspired, in part, by recent debate in Floriday’s state government regarding the use of controversial terms such as “climate change” and “global warming.” “Historically,” the artists write, “the human capacity for verbal language has been used as a point of separation between animals and ourselves. This separation has in turn helped to accelerate our exploitation of the natural world. By incorporating animals that literally speak back to us, the artists envision a situation in which language serves to unite, rather than to divide, humans from animals, with hopes that this reunification may help us address the urgent ecological crises that we face today.”
For those concerned with the parrots’ well-being throughout the six-month duration of the exhibit, an FAQ notes that “the museum has enlisted one of the nation’s top avian veterinarians to manage the care of the parrots throughout the exhibition’s run. The veterinarian will visit the birds weekly, and has trained a team of caretakers specifically for the exhibition to feed and interact with the birds and to clean their aviary every evening. Between the caretaker’s visits, specially trained museum staff and volunteers continuously monitor the parrots. “
Hey everybody — like Crazy Eddie, Brooklyn Parrots is GIVING IT ALL AWAY THIS WEEK. Here’s your chance to download an eBook that I worked on this past Spring: Solopreneuer Ronin. It’s a handy guide for folks who want to free themselves from the corporate treadmill, spread their wings, and fly.
“The study compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space, as determined from satellite imagery and a comprehensive list of all five hundred and thirty thousand trees planted on public land, and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. “
The findings validate my own anecdotal observations on the Wild Parrot Safaris I’ve conducted in leafy parts of Brooklyn for the past 10 years. With rare exception, the folks who take the tour seem to be happier after the experience of watching parrots than they were prior to the trip. After one such excursion, an elderly gentleman revealed to me that his wife, who suffers from clinical depression, had smiled “for the first time in five years” while watching the parrots perched up in the trees. Even if it was the trees — not the parrots — that caused this mental turnaround, you’ll rarely find parrots very far from trees, which makes looking at them a good investment in your own well-being.
I can’t promise that wild parrot- or tree-watching will lift you up from a major case of the blues, but I will say this: I always feel better after watching the birds, or even hearing them squawk as they pass overhead. No, the parrots don’t solve all my problems but there’s never been a day when they’ve failed to cheer me up a little, and sometimes that little boost makes a HUGE difference.
The next Safari, BTW, will happen on Saturday, September 12, at Green-Wood Cemetery. If you’d like to attend, please shoot me an email (steve at brooklynparrots.com).