Birding Action at Green-Wood: Red Tailed Hawks, Parrots, and Anti-Starling Propaganda

As you likely know, Green-Wood Cemetery is my first choice for birding in Brooklyn. It’s the best place to see our remarkable wild parrots in action, and it’s also a place where one is likely to be surprised by experiences bordering on the mystical.

Case in point: this red-tailed hawk, which, this past Wednesday, implacably perched on the impressive memorial obelisk of Emmett and Catharine Pell for more than a half hour in the early afternoon.

I’ve done my share of hawk-watching and have never gotten so close to one.

A mockingbird was clearly disturbed by the presence of the hawk.

Mockingbirds are tough and won’t let the hawk’s size advantage intimidate them. The hawk ignored the harassment and would not be moved.

Feather-maintenance was undertaken.

Note the carving on the obelisk: a pair of soaring wings. Coincidence?

With no prompting from any discernible cause, the hawk flew off to the north, in the general direction of pigeon flocks operating in the vicinity of Park Slope.

I can’t at this point say whether the hawk will return to this same location, especially given the unwelcome reception he was given by the mockingbird.

But it’s worth a try and is only a 3-minute walk from the main gate.

To get to the Emmett and Catharine Pell memorial, walk up Sycamore Avenue until it meets Arbor and Bay Road Avenues – that’s just to the west of the Dewitt Clinton monument, which is visible from this location. Remember, you’ll be on an active road frequented by the Trolley and by motorized visitors, so stick to the road edges.

With the hawk gone, the parrots at the main gate resume their continual chatter and daytime activities.

The parrots seem to respect the hawks’ domain. They generally avoid the higher ground in the interior of the cemetery and are rarely seen in the interior (although they will travel through the NE corner near Battle Hill from time to time, a place also frequented by hawks).

The parrots’ main theater of activity is along the western edge of the cemetery, especially around the entrance gate, where they enjoy proximity to a wide range of food sources: grass (their natural staple), various flowering trees, and a particular clover that grows around the stone of many horizontal grave markers.

On my way home, I noticed some anti-Starling propaganda taped to a lamp post across the street from the Cemetery.

Not sure what to make of this — is this a stunt or are these people serious?

Catching some rays at Green-Wood Cemetery

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.

Green-Wood Cemetery Wild Quaker Parrot Flock Count Is Now Officially 36

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.

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.

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.