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The Monks of Brooklyn

Hello all, NBB here. I spent some time in New York City recently, more specifically Brooklyn. Since the weather was so beautiful (especially for February) I took advantage of it to walk around the Greenwood Heights neighborhood, so named because of the historic Green-Wood Cemetery (founded in 1838). I expected to walk along its hills, looking at historical headstones and mausoleums, enjoying a quiet day to myself.

I did not expect to encounter a colony of South American monk parakeets.

“Man,” I thought, “Brooklyn has some noisy starlings. Weird-sounding ones, too.” I walked through the double archway to the cemetery, and the noise got much, much louder. So I did what any sensible person, or even a birdwatcher, would do, and I looked up. Here’s the entryway:

If you look below the peak of the tallest spire, you’ll notice a very dark brown patch. That’s a large, communal stick nest that wraps all the way around the spire. And flying away from it where some light green birds that were very definitely not starlings. I mean, even I noticed that. When Sharon showed up a few days later, we trekked down to the cemetery and she did some digiscoping:

Monk parakeets. And lots of them. Though the birds seemed to be screeching at each other nonstop (another reason why they may have settled in a cemetery: the neighbors won’t complain about the noise), they seemed to be perfectly happy to cohabitate in their giant, self-made cavity nests.

So how did they end up there? There are theories, and this blog dedicated to the birds lists several: the most likely being that they were released from a shipping container by thieves who were looking for more valuable things to steal.

One particularly trouble thing was that the cemetery is located across the street from an electrical power station, and the birds were building stick nests on the power structures inside. That can’t possible be safe, I thought repeatedly, and indeed it seems that other states power companies are euthanizing the birds to prevent them from shorting out the power lines they nest on. Fortunately for the Brooklyn Parrots, they have admirers. The cemetery itself organizes regular bird walks, a group at Brooklyn College is studying the birds’ behavior, and they even have their own Facebook page. If you’re in the area and want an unusual bird that super-easy to spot, check ‘em out!

7 comments to The Monks of Brooklyn

  • DB

    A pair of monk parakeets recently built a small nest here in Boston, and it was kind of a beautiful structure, looking spiky all around the edges because of the twigs they use, but with strikingly smooth entrance holes.
    But it seems strange that a large, loud feral nesting colony such as this would thrive with so many hungry raptors around. Surely raptors hunted the similarly sized Carolina parakeet (though this was of course forever ago)?

  • Great pics! Story! I would see the colony/colonies in Ridgefield Park and Cliffside Park on the Jersey side of the Hudson over the past 20+ years even though they where there long before I became a birder. I often wondered how the folks in those neighborhoods dealt with all that noise. : )

  • mthgordon

    I’m curious what limits raptor populations in major cities. I’m thinking it’s either a high death rate from hitting buildings etc., or it’s an effect of territorial behavior, with established birds chasing newcomers out of the area until the population is sufficiently sparse. In a city with a limited number (by whatever method) of raptors and a large and well-fed pigeon population, monk parakeets probably aren’t worth the bother. I also have to wonder whether the spiky nests help deter fast-diving predators like peregrine falcons; they remind me of pike formations as defense against cavalry.

  • Joanna

    I have seen raptors hunt parrots in San Francisco.

  • Abi

    I have a monk parakeet, so when I was visiting New York I specifically sought out the monk parakeets in Brooklyn. Watching them and listening to them gave me a new appreciation for some of my parrot’s mannerisms and calls, as I could see how this feral flock was using them to communicate with each other.

  • Marcus Webster

    In Chicago, in the 80′s, Monk Parakeets established their presence by building their communal roost across the street from Mayor Harold Washington’s house. They have since moved on to the Daley compound but this initial move established the parrots as movers and shakers in the Chicago political scene. Even Rahm won’t mess with them.

  • SL Heitz

    Fantastic pictures and great story! They may annoy their neighbors, but I think the wild monk parrots are fascinating to watch. I used to have one as a pet (he recently passed away after 14 years) and it amazed me how he used to weave things into his cage bars, do the same alarm calls as the wild parrots, etc.