Monday, January 21, 2013

Monk Parakeets in Suffolk County, NY

So I have a soft spot for Monk Parakeets.  I know that they are an introduced species, and perhaps don't belong here, but I like to think that they are filling the 'Gap in Nature' left when we drove the native Carolina Parakeet to extinction.  It's a bit of a stretch I know but it somehow feels right that a parakeet is slowly colonizing the NorthEast US, even if the local power companies are doing their best to thwart them by taking down the nests on utility poles.

Growing up in the UK, I have a respect and affection for introduced birds which there at least have a robust and fascinating pedigree associated with aristocratic Victorian collector-naturalists, and tied to a swashbuckling generation of adventurers discovering the wildlife of the world's wild places.  As a young birder, tracking down a Golden Pheasant in the rhododendron forests of Norfolk, or watching Mandarin Ducks on the oak-lined streams near my home in Wales, was 'almost' as exciting as really going to China (a trip I couldn't afford until many years later).  I also still vividly remember seeing my first Rose-ringed Parakeet at a park in Margate, Kent and the being literally stunned by this amazing bird in such an ordinary suburban setting.  While recent history of some of our introductions in the US may not be quite as glamorous, and even if our parakeets came from a bunch of little old ladies not closing their bird-cage doors properly, I still like the fact that New York has parakeets.

Monk Parakeet (3 shots)
Today I spent a little time looking for a Monk Parakeet in Suffolk County, New York.  This species is pretty well established in the New York City area - easy to find in Brooklyn, and widespread in Queens, Nassau, and a few other nearby counties.  In Suffolk though they are confined to the Western edge of the county, and typically live in areas that I don't tend to bird all that much.  I had directions from Ken Feustel to a nest behind the a retail store in Babylon Village, and actually managed to find the nest pretty quickly, but unfortunately it was empty at the time.  So I kept pushing West based on another tip and, as I was driving through Lindenhurst I saw a parakeet on a wire outside a strip mall.

Finding a place to do a (legal) U-turn, I got back and pulled into a nearby parking lot.  A single parakeet was sitting outside the nest but as I walked up under the pole a few more heads began to poke out of the various nest-holes.  I was aware that as I was taking photographs, I was very much being watched by the parakeets up above.  A few minutes later however the parakeets switched their attention to something on the other side of the nest and suddenly nine birds flew out and dipped quickly into some trees behind the mall.  Scanning around me I saw a Cooper's Hawk slip by but was surprised that they would abandon the safety of the nest when there was a predator in the area.  Perhaps its safer to be on the wing when there's a hawk about.

When I got back I posted an image on Facebook and got a reply from Donna Schulman who said that parakeets in Queens are finding innovative places in which to nest, now that the utility companies have removed many of their existing nest structures.  I hope they can find a way to make it because I really like having them around.

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