Pizza parrots!

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Two wild parrots on Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue enjoy some fresh-caught pizza.

With all the hoopla surrounding Pizza Rat, I’d thought I’d add a few photos I snapped a few years back of some wild Brooklyn Parrots (AKA Monk Parakeets/Quaker Parrots) enjoying pizza on Bedford Avenue.

These photos were NOT staged. The pizza slice in question was discarded on the sidewalk. Two parrots on watch saw the slice, they flew over, and air-lifted it into the tree. The slice was shared and largely devoured by the parrots; but one large fragment was dropped and enjoyed subsequently by a local sparrow.

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Thin crust, sauce, and cheese: perfection!
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Pizza isn’t unknown in Argentina, but it’s a lot easier to come by in Brooklyn.
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Look at this bird’s face. That is one satisfied example of charismatic megafauna!
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Sparrows like it too.

Why exactly do Monk Parakeets fight?

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September 14, 2015: While the Monk Parakeets (AKA Quaker Parrots) we find living in Brooklyn don’t go out of their way to bother other birds, they do a fair share of fighting amongst themselves. Check out the video below, which I shot a couple of years ago at Brooklyn College.

Obviously, something is bothering several of these birds, and they’ve decided to take it out on one another. Within about 15 seconds, the whole gang of parrots is rumbling like the cast of West Side Story. Interestingly, this battle appears to be a completly infra-parrot flock happening. The pigeons, sparrows, and lone squirrel who are part of this group don’t really seem to react to it at all.

Did some bird make the mistake of issuing a Trump-class insult to another one? Or just look at a bird the wrong way? I’ve replayed this tape many times, and still can’t get to the bottom of what prompted this peculiar street brawl.

Thank goodness for scientists, especially Elizabeth Hobson, who’s probably studied Monk Parakeet societies more systematically than anyone on the planet. A new, very nicely illustrated story on Audubon.org by Sarah Gilman highlights Hobson’s latest achievement: a play-by-play analysis of how and why these parrots fight.

According to Hubson, fights happen in a stange game of “telephone aggression,” wherein Bird A bothers Bird B, who bothers Bird C, who bothers Bird D. Who’s the beneficiary of this chain of biting and feather-pulling? Bird A, who now understands who’s who in the pecking order, and where exactly Bird A fits in. Also, any birds watching the aggression (and that’s a lot of them: rubber-necking seems to be a major past time among these parrots). Who is it safe to hassle? Who should one steer clear of? The chain of aggression tells the tale.

Each moment in an aggressive outburst is, it seems, a teachable moment. Conflict — observed, analyzed, and adapted by each member of the flock, appears to be a core mechanism for socialization and, it is presumed, better flock cohesion and better chances of flock survival.

I’m very glad to know that all this fighting, biting, yelling, and feather-pulling has a noble purpose!

Elizabeth Hobson’s new study is available at the PLOS Computational Biology Website:
http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004411

Super-rare Night Parrot grabbed, tagged, and released in Australia

The Night Parrot, By Martin ThompsonFlyingidiot at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

A Night Parrot – an extremely rare member of the nocturnal parrot family known for its wary elusiveness, has reportedly been captured, tagged and released in the western Queensland part of Australia, according to the website of the Guardian newspaper.

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.

Hopefully, the secret site where the Night Parrot was captured and released will soon be a protected area, according to an article on the website of the Australian Geographic Society.

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.

Parrots play key role in new art exhibit at Miami’s Perez Art Museum

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.””

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Edouard Manet’s “Woman with Parrot,” 1866

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. “