Monk Parakeets in Hyde Park and beyond

A service of Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Parks Committee and its website www.hydepark.org. Join the Parks Committee- chair Gary Ossewaarde. Join the Conference, help support our work.

 

Bird and Birding home. Harold Washington Park
Another site: www.monkparakeet.com

Various features on Hyde Park's avian mascot. See at end a call for volunteeer to help map their out migration. Originally in Harold Washington Park north of 53d street east of S. Hyde Park Blvd., the parakeets are found in various sites in Hyde Park and well beyond, now, including several spots in Jackson Park and well out into the surburbs. (email us at hpkcc@aol.com for contacts that may know where to look)

Monk Parakeets have spread widely in the region. Their nests periodically are destroyed by storms or transformer blowups (Feb. 17, 2008-5400 block of Kimbark alley) or by Com Ed and other crews.

A local bird-knowledgeable says: Green (monk) parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) first nested in the tree across from the Hampton House when Harold Washington lived there in the 80s, probably setting up residence in the mid-70s. They also live in Jackson Park on utility poles near the tennis courts, on at least one utility pole behind St. Thomas's church, and have moved all over the city. They are real nuisances. Their aggressive behavior causes problems for native species. This said, all efforts to remove them have failed because too many bird lovers go to bat for them. Doug Anderson said that they have replaced the now extinct Carolina Parakeet, but some experts believe it's not that simple. Anywhere, these birds are common!

 

Parakeet original home tree falls, babies rescued. 2005

The original Hyde Park monk parakeet nesting tree in Harold Washington Park, long askew and on Park District watch list, finally decided to fall over June 12 2004, leaving over 50 parakeets homeless. Here is the Hyde Park Herald's report. Note: the "parakeets" are actually in the parrot family. The article contains much background, see more below. Individuals helped rescue and nurse 20 abandoned young. This rescue was led by Greater Chicago Caged Bird Club but with a host of other institutions and organizations involved. It has led to establishment of a regular procedure and notification in case of a nest takedown whether in a park or by Com Ed at alley transformers. A bird rescue group, Greater Chicago Caged Bird Club, sends members to care for fledglings or unhatched eggs found on the scene. (None were found at a March 22, 2005 Com Ed takedown in the 5000 block of Dorchester.) The group advises on removal so it can be done between broods. Leader Nancy Carlson said these birds are very industrious and nests are often back within weeks.

Mayor Harold Washington's role in staying attempts to remove the parakeets, and his attitude toward them have been told in different ways and may have become part of folklore (i.e. ...said he "would never lose and election so long as..."). What is certain is that as soon as he died in 1987, city crews swarmed down to break the nests up. A committee led by Doug Anderson quickly formed and sued, challenging the bird's alleged "threat" to "Illinois crops," and won. In May, 1988, the federal Animal Damage Control office backed off. (Note- the parakeets can in fast damage certain garden plants.) The Park District's approach remains ambiguous, while ComEd destroys nests where possible. Anderson says threats to power distribution is from squirrels, not parakeets. Other witnesses dispute this.

It was at the least bad timing or judgment when Pepe's Mexican Food employees (1310 E. 53rd Street) took it upon themselves to destroy a parakeet nest behind their restaurant the week after the tree fell.

Parakeet home topples, Monk parakeets scattered after "Harold's Tree" suddenly falls

Hyde Park Herald, June 16, 2004. By Mike Stevens

A towering ash tree splintered and fell to the ground in Harold Washington Park June 12, displacing more than 50 monk parakeets from the tree's large twig nests.

Chicago Animal Control workers rushed that evening to move the toppled nests, some of which had young broods of parakeets, to a towering cottonwood farther north in the lakefront park.

"It was loud, it tilted over and came falling down [with] a big boom. The birds started flying and screaming. It was shocking." said Brenda Cochran who was working across the street at the Hampton House. "[The birds] were hysterical just like a human [would be] if his house was on fire and if his children were trapped."

Local bird watcher Doug Anderson said the nests housed seven pairs of birds and their young. The 70-year-old Hyde Parker has been studying the parks's parakeets for 24 years. "The tree that went down Saturday is where [monk parakeets] first started nesting [in Hyde Park]," Anderson said.

The nests became famous in 1988 after then-mayor Harold Washington, whose apartment overlooked the park which now carries his name, helped foil city plans to remove the bright green birds from the park.

It was a very old tree, it was leaning and had a cavity," said Shirl McMayon, natural resources director at the park district. Park officials had been watching the nearly 100-year-old tree for a year but its location and stability did not rate it for removal quite yet, McMayon said. The nests also contributed to the district's decision to delay removal. Park District officials expected to finish removing the tree by Monday.

Built from twigs and sticks and lined with grasses and tissue paper, monk parakeet nests can reach over 1o feet in length. Multiple pairs of birds live in the nests, but each has its own compartment with its own entrance. Although they look ramshackle, the nests are sturdy and provide sufficient shelter for the Argentinean birds to survive the biting winter winds off Lake Michigan, Anderson said.

There is a chance some pairs of parakeets will reject their new home, leaving many broods of baby parakeets to die. With over 200 monk parakeets living at more than 15 different sites throughout Hyde [alone], Anderson has faith in the resilient species Myiopsitta monachus.

"They're already seeking out new sites to start building up a new nest," Anderson said.

Thought to have been originally shipped to America to be sold as pets, enough of the South American birds eventually escaped somehow or were deliberately released that colonies of the horn-beaked birds took up residence in New York City's Central Park as far back as 1967, Anderson said.

The green feather cover on the fist-sized bird's back and head and blue feathers streaking their wings and gray ones muting their underbellies distinguish these birds, in case their squawks don't call attention to themselves.

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In more detail: Herald coverage June 23 20?? Articles periodically appear in city and local papers.

Parakeet rescuers recount successes

By Mike Stevens.

City workers scrambled to relocated dozens of monk parakeets after an ash tree in Harold Washington Park toppled to the ground June 12 destroying three twig nests. Workers from Animal Control, the Police Department, the Park District, Streets and Sanitation and even the Lincoln Park Zoo came to the birds' aid.

While 95 percent of the parakeets survived the fall, Animal Control officials are not certain all the birds can adapt to the new nests.

Local birder Doug Anderson worried that the relocated birds might perish despite all of the efforts. "I don't know how the babies would be accepted," said Anderson who has studied Hyde Park's monk parakeets for 24 years.

Animal Control Supervisor Mary Czeropski, who helped rescue the birds, was hopeful. Czeropski had already clocked out and was minutes from heading home when a call about "injured parrots" came through to the Western Avenue Animal Control branch the day the tree fell.

"I knew we didn't have enough animal control officers to take the call. We only had three trucks for the whole city," said Czeropski, who owned a parakeet as a child. Czeropski grabbed holding cages, nets, work gloves and fellow supervisor Andrew Glanos before heading out.

Upon arrival, the pair started pulling apart the nests in search of stranded birds. "We were in feathers and digging around in bird feces for four hours," Czeropski said. "You have to love what you do."

Czeropski and Glanos gathered a total of 50 young parakeets as their parents flew above the downed tree shrieking. "We could not bring all those birds back. They need to eat every hour. They would have perished immediately," Czeropski said.

Brenda Cochran, who works across the street from the felled tree, watched the rescue from start to finish. "It's a blessing [for the birds] to survive something like that," cochran said. "It makes you cry because that tree has been there for so long. It's their home."

While the pair scouted a new nest location in the park, a Lincoln Park Zoo bird expert and a veterinarian monitored the birds. A city tow truck moved cars to make room for a Chicago Park District work crew which cleared branches in search of more birds.

Meanwhile a police officer tracked down extra terry cloth towels to keep the fledgling birds warm. A manager of ACE Hardware, 5420 S. Lake Park Avenue, reopened the store so the officer could get the towels after hearing about the birds' plight.

Glanos and Czeropski began working to reconstruct the twig pile in the old tree into a nest. "We started placing the newborns [and] covered them with a terry cloth towel. We kept doing that layer by layer for four different floors. It was like a condominium," Czeropski said. As night fell Czeropski chose a spot for the nests in a towering cottonwood tree that already had two nests in it. A Chicago Park District work crew helped [place the nests an the birds 20 feet up in the tree using a lift.

"We had everything working against us. [There were] a couple of hours left of daylight. It's a Saturday when most city workers are at home," Czeropski said. "[But] all the city departments came together."

Last Thursday, the Herald found some of the terry clothe towels sitting at the foot of the new tree. Czeropski took that as a good sign saying perhaps the parents had thrown the towels out upon their return.

Since the monk parakeets' predicament made the nightly news, calls from people looking to help flooded into Animal Control offices, Czeropski said.

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From the December 20 2006 Hyde Park Herald--parakeets fly south

Paraphrase of article by Daniel J. Yovich

First sighted in the area in Hyde Park's Harold Washington (then East End) Park in 1979, they quickly established nests throughout the neighborhood and parts of Jackson and Washington parks. then they showed up in Northwest Indiana, Evergreen Park, Bridgeview, and Palos Hills.

According to University of Chicago biology students who have been censusing and tracking the birds under professor Stephen Pruett-Jones, the number locally stays about 150. It seems the juveniles aged about one year travel elsewhere. There is an annual census Christmas Day c. 8 am.They have lots of human help to survive the winter as attested by feed sales at the Hyde Park Co-op.

U of C researcher seeks volunteers in tracking parakeets

University of Chicago Chronicle, March 15, 2007. By Katie Brandt

Alien invaders exist in Chicago; it's a proven fact. They are little and green, and for the past four decades they have surveyed human life in the city from on high. Now, though, one University scientist wants to turn the tables. Stephen Pruett-Jones, Associate Professor in Ecology & Evolution and the College is initiating a year-long Chicago-area survey, encouraging locals to turn their eyes to the skies in search these foreign creatures, a.k.a.--in this case,--monk parakeets, native to the tropics.

Pruett-Jones and research patner Christopher Appelt at Saint Xavier University want to generate a map of all active monk parakeet nests stretching from Northwest Indiana into southern Wisconsin.

Hyde Park residents first reported sightings of the alien species--indigenous to Central and South America--in the late 1960s. Though people kept and continue to keep the parakeets as pets, these sightings were of feral parakeets perched in treetops or on massive nests made primarily of sticks.

Researchers believe the original feral parakeets in Hyde Park were pets that had escaped their owners. In the wilds of this South Side Chicago neighborhood, they formed colonies, and by the 100s their population had expanded to an estimated 400 birds.

Now they are expanding again--only this time geographically. During the past eight years, "their numbers in Hyde Park have declined, whereas in surrounding communities their numbers have skyrocketed," Pruett-Jones said. "This work will help us better understand the biology of this interesting species and the reasons for its moving out of the city as well as nest site preferences," he said.

After an initial study, Pruett-Jones concluded that the parakeets were moving away from the city vial corridors along train lines and utility structures. They also have switched their dwelling from oak and elm trees to conifers and utility poles, which prove hazardous because "when the nexts get wet during rain and snow storms they can cause electrical shorts, power outages and electrical fires."

Those hazards are no shock to Hyde Park residents who watched workers from the electrical power supplier ComEd remove a 10-foot wide nest from a utility pole in 1997. A debate erupted between the alien species' advocates and residents who feared for their safety and property values.

"Understanding he present distribution of nests and how corridors of open space facilitate a change in that distribution may help minimize this danger," Pruett-Jones said.

People who spot the feral green-and-gray creatures and know locations of active nests should send a description of the nest's exact locations and any other information regarding the parakeets to the researchers at pruett-jones@uchicago.edu and appelt@sxu.edu or call 773 702-3115.