Tuesday, August 19, 2008
After the storm ...
At the gallery yesterday, when H-Mom opened the front door in the afternoon - she saw a hint of sunshine - she knew that Tropical Storm Fay had passed. It didn't matter what the Weather Channel was reporting: the parakeets had returned. They were fiesty, arguing and pushing each other from palm frond to frond. Settling back in after having been so unceremoniously dislodged by the evil weather. (Thank you, Google images ... H-Mom doesn't have a telephoto lens!)
Those of us who live and work in downtown Fort Lauderdale have become pretty oblivious to the troops of green monk parakeets that quarrel in the trees of the Las Olas median, or fly from wire to wire in the alleys.
The brightly colored and loud-voiced birds demand attention from out-of-town visitors. People often stop outside the gallery window, with their heads and cameras turned to the palm trees. The parakeets create quite a bit of excitement. Most Americans have seen parakeets only in pet stores, zoos or Caribbean-themed bars.
Immigrants, monk parakeets are native to South America. The Fort Lauderdale parakeets have descended from birds that were released by their Floridian owners on purpose or by accident. Urban legend contends that many were freed from Parrot Jungle by Hurricane Wilma. They have established stable, feral communities in Fort Lauderdale. The birds are self-sustained breeding colonies, established populations that have easily adapted to Florida’s climate and ecosystems. Birds that seem tame are most likely recently escaped or abandoned pets. Wild birds rarely tolerate people, and can be befriended only with dedicated attention.
Although not native to Florida, here the monk parakeets cause only minor ecological distress. The main problem the birds create is for local utility companies such as Florida Power & Light. They cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to electrical equipment because they often build their large, communal stick nests on electrical transformers. The bulky nests get wet during rainstorms and fall, causing short circuits to electrical transformer boxes.
In the late '60s and 70's, Florida Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to eradicate the wayward parakeets. The effort was abandoned because of the huge scale of the bird invasion. Now, there is a market for captured parakeet chicks. Trapping and selling monk parakeets is legal in Florida because it is a non-native species.
We don't encourage our visitors to climb after parakeet hatchlings, however. Every once in awhile, there is news item on an industrious parakeet hunter who got tangled -- and fried -- in high voltage wires.