Living in New York, there are always things a person thinks would be fun to do, but you get so caught up in day to day life, sometimes it's just hard to find time. High on my list of things I've been meaning to do have been two unique Brooklyn tours - Steve Baldwin, the BrooklynParrots guy, and a tour of Green-Wood Cemetary (I know the latter sounds morbid, but the place is renowned as perhaps the zenith of the flowering of the Victorian death fixation and the results are fascinating and in some cases quite beautiful - you'll see later in the slide show). So when I clicked on Steve's site the other day & saw "Double Header Parrot Safari - Brooklyn College and Green-Wood Cemetary!" - it was irresistable. I rounded up a couple of friends & at noon on a chilly, breezy, clear December 1st, we met Brooklyn's #1 parrot fan at the Hillel Gate at Brooklyn College for what turned out to be an absolutely fascinating afternoon's adventure.
Amazingly, Steve had arranged for some of the parrots to meet us at the gate so we could begin our parrot-watching immediately. No, just kidding, it was a sheer fortuitous coincidence that a flock had decided to come nosh on some delicious pine needles right there at the gate - this turns out to be a food they're very fond of. Who'd have thought? But it was a lovely coincidence.
The Brooklyn College Campus. Oh, for anyone who's stumbled across this and is a little confused about this business of parrot-watching in Brooklyn - theparrots in question are Monk or Quaker Parrots (or parakeet, which is just a term for a small parrot). The great-great-great-great grandbirdies of the birds we enjoyed watching today escaped from a container at John F. Kennedy International Airport back in the 70's. At least one bird book of the era (owned by my boyfriend, so I've seen it!) mentioned them, but said that they were not expected to establish themselves as these Argentinian natives were unlikely to survive the harsh Northeast winters. Lucky for them...
Monk Parrots stay far too busy building giant, insulated nests to have any free time to read bird books. Not being clued in to the fact that they weren't supposed to make it, they did. Here's living proof looking out of the nest that lets it live. The population has grown, but not outrageously fast - from what Steve had to say, it sounds as though this far north, the winters ARE hard enough for them that they'll remain much more of a curiousity than that unfortunate intentional transplant, the starling. More recent bird books, though, do not express any skepticism about the likelihood of their continued presence here in the Northeast. That's a nutshell (eggshell?) version of the Monk Parrots of Brooklyn, of course - check out the BrooklynParrots site for loads more info.
We spent quite a bit more time in the Brooklyn College area, hearing stories of the parrots' run-ins with Con-Ed (our local electric company, who dislikes the parrots because the parrots like their nests to have central heating & the best way to get that is to build the nest on a transformer box), poachers who catch the wild birds to breed young ones for the pet market, the neighborhood parrot fans who stand up for them, and lots of Monk Parrot trivia (they hate crows, the color orange, and flashing things). No more pictures there, though - most of the birds we saw (and there were lots) were up in a tree, as a redtail hawk had been in the vicinity & they were feeling a little skittish about coming out where they could be seen. The camera next came out in Sunset Park. This was a lovely old commercial greenhouse across the street from Green-Wood Cemetary; one of the owners (or at least a knowledgeable employee) told us that it dated from 1875 & that at the time, the area was full of greenhouses & farms.
Here is the magnificent Gothic gate of the Green-Wood Cemetary. All's quiet now - but in just a little while, this will become the setting of an aerial drama as exciting as anything the Discovery Channel has to offer! Look closer...
There's the giant nest that will soon draw all the players in the evening's game. Steve told us that before the parrots arrived, the cemetary had a problem with pigeons. Generations of pigeons - more properly known as rock doves - had nested and roosted here, and their droppings are like acid to brownstone. When the parakeets arrived, they proved to deter the pigeons. When a chemist's analysis of the newcomers' guano ("hi, honey, what did you do at work today?") proved that it had NO effect on brownstone, the decision was made to let them stay - and they've thrived.
The parrots spend much of the day away from the nest, foraging, but every evening they make their way home to their nests. Here are the first few arriving.
Many more are in the nearby trees. These ones are busily engaged in nipping leaf buds, another favorite food source in the winter months. After having their fill, many of them headed over to a nearby flat-roofed building, where Steve conjectured that they were probably engaging in another favorite activity, bathing in puddles. Nothing like a good bath after a long day's foraging!
Ablutions completed, they head for the spires of the gate.
You hear calls, you look, and there's another flock arrowing in - more and more from all directions.
And so, to bed -- but -- NO! WHAT'S THAT??? HEADING THIS WAY!!!!
AWK! AWK! RAAAAAAWK! EVERYBODY BACK IN THE AIR!
A moment later, the source of all the commotion swoops overhead, looping aroud the now-deserted steeple.
He lands in a nearby tree. It's a small hawk - possibly a Northern Harrier, from what A. and I found in her bird books & online after the trip. Corrections from qualified birders welcome!
He's keeping a sharp eye out, plotting his next move in a dance that Steve tells us is played out here almost every night. Various raptors live or visit the area, and they know that the parrots come home a little while before sunset.
But the parrots KNOW that they know, and they're ready to evade. We watch for quite some time - it's mesmerizing. The parrots are actually faster than this particular hawk, plus they can twist and turn with tremendous agility. One of the main goals of both parties in this chase seems to be to get higher than the other guy - basic physics say that the bird who's got the higher position is going to have the advantage over the bird that has to climb to get to him (or escape him).
Their evening settling-in disturbed, the flocks that are already there circle, or land in trees higher than the hawk's perch. They call out warnings to flocks who are just arriving that there's a predator nearby.
The hawk takes up a new position on the spire above the nest. It would be a foolish parrot that tried to come in to the nest NOW, but there are no candidates for the avian Darwin Awards tonight & eventually the hawk takes off in pursuit of a nearby flock -
who handily evade the hawk, who lands in another tree some distance away. The parrots reclaim the spire. One flock actually has the audacity to land in the very tree that the hawk has landed, carefully choosing branches that put them in upper-hand higher-up spots, then heading back to the gate. It's almost as though there's an element of fun in it for them - they're cautious & alert little birds & that particular moment, well, it's almost like it was a thrillseeking moment. As I mentioned, the parrots could so clearly outfly this particular hawk, I found myself wondering if maybe that intentional approach to the hawk was like the parakeet equivalent of whitewater kayaking, or surfing - taking a little controlled risk for the payoff of the adrenaline rush!
Far overhead, a flock of geese heads in the direction of the upper harbor, oblivious to the commotion down below...
The hawk retakes the spire, the game continues - but with the sun lowering and the air getting cooler, my friends & I are ready to wander the cemetary a bit.
Die like an Egyptian. The tombs here are truly amazing. As my friend Jack, who'd taken a break from his newyorkbyjack.com tour guiding to take a tour himself today likes to say, the Victorians had a thing for death - and Green-Wood Cemetary holds astounding examples of mortuary art. Egyptian themes were frequent.
Angel. City shines in the distance.
A little curious confusion at the end of the day - the cherry trees are blossoming. Perhaps the warm fall confused them - the temperature was falling fast as we left, though, and tomorrow's forecast is for snow and sleet.
I definitely plan to come back for one of the guided tours that Green-Wood offers - Jack was telling us stories of monuments strange and beautiful, but there was no time to explore tonight - that'll be an adventure for another day.
And I'll be sure to finish at the gate, an hour before the sunset, to watch the evening homecoming.
Thanks, Steve & friends who joined me, for a wonderful afternoon!
Want to go on a Parrot Safari yourself? Check out BrooklynParrots.com !