Bird watchers in Charles Park have been delighted by sightings of monk parakeets, with their distinctive bright green and blue feathers, perched atop utility poles near 165th Avenue in Old Howard Beach.
The colony of Monk parakeets, also known as Quaker parrots, have recently been making their residences in three nests, called condominiums by some observers.
Cynthia Strauss, of Howard Beach, who walks her brown Labrador, Cocoa, in the park, noted three locations where the parrots make their nests — on 165th Avenue between 97th Street and 98th Street, the corner of 99th Street and 161st Avenue and on 99th Street between 161st Avenue and 160th Avenue.
“It’s amazing that the parrots have flourished in New York City temperatures, having come from Brazil’s tropical climate,” Strauss said.
Fellow Howard Beach resident Stephanie Flexer agreed.
“The parrots seem to be very intelligent to have survived and adapted to New York City winters,” she said.
The parakeets are thought to be descended from a group of birds that escaped from their crates in the cargo area of John F. Kennedy International Airport in the 1960s.
Avian enthusiast Steve Baldwin, who runs brooklynparrots.com, a website devoted to chronicling the wild urban parakeets, attributed their survival to their willingness to eat anything.
“They like plants, tree buds, birdseed, berries and, if it comes to it, they’ll eat grass,” he told the Queens Chronicle.
The Charles Park parakeets are very protective of their nests, according to Ozone Park resident and amateur photographer Bob Cohen.
Cohen said that while he was in the park last week taking photos of the birds and their nests, he heard a big commotion.
It turned out that a large black crow was trying to get squatters’ rights to the nest, and the parakeets were attempting to evict the invader from their abode.
“And these two parrots, they’re screaming their heads off,” Cohen said.
“In short order, two or three parrots fly in from different directions,” Cohen said, adding, “the screaming was clearly calling for the parrots to come home — we got a problem.”
Cohen said that a few minutes later he saw the crow chasing the parakeets, who were accomplishing what they set out to do — get the aggressor away from their nest.
Naturalist Dave Taft, the coordinator for the Jamaica Bay Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area, said the monk parakeets have a large range extending down to Argentina where there is snow, “so these parrots evolve to be very comfortable in colder climates.”
Because of this, Taft said, they have “had an easy time acclimating to New York City.”
Taft said the parakeets are fairly intelligent birds and build their large nests around the transformers on utility poles to provide their nests with heat.
“The parrots have cleverly figured out that you could build your nest around these things and have winter heating,” Taft said.
However, the birds’ efforts to keep warm have caused problems for Con Edison.
Their nests often wreak havoc on the electrical equipment by enveloping the transformers, blocking ventilation.
The result can cause the devices to short-circuit, and often catch fire, sometimes leading to power failures.
It is also expensive to replace the 24,000-volt feeder transformer, costing Con Edison about $20,000 each time.
But the utility company thought it had come up with a solution to chase the parakeets away — a plastic battery-powered owl that swivels its head and makes a hooting noise. However, the owl, nicknamed “Hootie,” proved to be a short-lived success.
After a few months, Hootie’s batteries ran out and the birds immediately pegged him as a fake and built their nest next to him.
The addition of an orange cape to “Super Hootie” also did not have a lasting effect.
And so the search for a solution goes on.
Con Edison’s removal of a nest is not a problem for the parakeets, according to spokesman Chris Olert.
“Even if we take a nest down, they’re wily enough to build somewhere else,” said Olert.
“They’re being relocated,” Olert added.
Although the birds may have their detractors, they have powerful supporters as well.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) is sponsoring legislation in the state Senate that would make Monk parakeets protected birds so their nest sites could not be disturbed without a permit.
“We feel this legislation is needed to protect them,” said Addabbo.
“We need advocates to speak out for these animals because they can’t do it themselves,” he continued.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly.
The bill’s text notes that the Quaker parrots, which have resided in the New York area for some 40 years, are not harmful to the environment, have not been a threat to any native species, and have not proven to cause damage to any public utilities.
The City Council is considering a non-binding resolution calling on the state Legislature to designate the Monk parakeet as a protected species. Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) is one sponsor.
“It is our responsibility to prevent potentially endangered species from disappearing altogether,” Crowley said. “In order to protect this beautiful bird, we must make sure that their habitats are maintained in a humane way and are protected from development.”