The weather was sunny this past Sunday, so I ventured out to catch up with my favorite flock of wild parrots in Brooklyn; the brave 36 inhabiting the upper reaches of the main gate at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. I found much of the flock sunning themselves on the south side of the main spire. No predators were in evidence, which meant the mood of the flock was calm, with mild chortling dominating the soundscape and nary a panicked alarm. December is a good month to watch the parrots; they tend to fly together in a large defensive flock. If you decide to get out to Green-Wood this month, I’d advise you to get there about by 3:00 PM while the sun is still high enough to provide for favorable light.
I’ve been lately concerned about the viability of the Green-Wood Cemetery wild Quaker Parrot flock in light of the recent appearance of three kestrels who’ve behaved very aggressively toward the parrots in the past several months. (The kestrels are by no means the only active avian predators at Green-Wood ; several red-tailed hawks live there as well and are often seen at the main gate, which is situated near the western edge of the cemetery.)
Today I made a visit to the Cemetery in an attempt to assess the size of the flock. My fear was that it had been greatly reduced by all the recent predator activity.
I was not at all optimistic when I arrived shortly after 2:30 PM, especially after spying a large red-tailed hawk that had perched in a big tree about 50 feet from the main spire where the parrots’ main nest complex is located. The hawk, the sky, the tree, the world — all were silent. Some may have found this silence peaceful but I found it ominous.
I was just about to leave but then heard multitudinous squawks emanating from a group of about 9 parrots arriving from the northwest, settling into the tree just above the hawk. Oddly, the parrots did not demonstrate any nervousness toward the hawk; in fact they spent their time calmly grooming/preening each other. (Who was it that said that “guts is grace under pressure?”)
A few minutes later, a much larger group of parrots arrived from the northeast, filling the sky with a chorus of squawks and screeching. This screeching continued as the parrots settled into the tree above the hawk. The cacophony was loud enough to draw the attention of several human by passers far below who looked up with bemused concern.
Suddenly, the hawk took off, clearly bugged by the noise level. So did the parrots, circling high above the gate and sounding what to my ears could only indicate a chorus of victory. The hawk made his way to the north part of the cemetery, where a large group of pigeons had previously been sighted.
This brief aerial drama enabled me to capture in a single frame what is most likely the entire Green-Wood Cemetery wild parrot flock. As you can see, there are 36 parrots in flight together (the leading (rightmost) bird is a starling, not a parrot, which led me to initially believe there were 37).
I think that this is a good healthy count — more parrots then I’ve seen in any prior visit in the past two years and probably enough to ensure the flock’s viability in the future (Quakers do best in the wild over the long term when a large flock is in place, although there have been cases when a smaller number of birds can generate self-sustaining flocks).
I don’t know exactly how they’re doing it, but they’re surviving, even in the face of so much new opposition from avian predators, and that’s good news in my book.
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.
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 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?)
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.
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.
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!
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.
The wonderful folks at BRIC Arts Media made a nice video on the Brooklyn Parrots (AKA Monk Parakeets) that just came out today. I hope you enjoy it — BTW BRIC is a great institution whose mission is to bring today’s tech-centric tools of expression to the larger community. Please support them!
I had the recent pleasure of meeting WCBS News Radio88 reporter Mike Sugerman and relating to him the strange tale of the wild parrots of Brooklyn. The result is a very nice story on the “boids” posted to WCBS’ site today. Check it out at:
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.