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Like many great groups before it, the Quaker Parrot, or Monk Parakeet as it is sometimes known, is a New York immigrant. The sub-tropical bird hails from Argentina, where it is considered little more than an agricultural pest. In fact, during the 1960s, the country attempted to exterminate the species altogether, a dastardly aim which luckily proved unsuccessful.
Faced with an overpopulous parrot population, Argentina began dispatching birds to be sold as exotic pets. Sometime between 1967 and 1968, a shipment of parrots arrived at New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport—and promptly broke loose. In true New York spirit, the parrots adapted to their environment, forming multiple colonies in and around New York where they have thrived for generations.
Swapping South America for the city has come with its own set of challenges. After escaping would-be exterminators in their home country, the parrots have met with a new human predator: the poacher. For years, poachers have been attempting to capture and sell Brooklyn’s feathered residents, achieving varying levels of success.
Unlike other species of birds (and some warm-weather-loving locals!), the parrots don’t fly south for the winter. Over the years, the Latin America natives have adapted to New York’s four seasons and can be spotted enjoying the weather in sun and snow alike.
On the first Saturday of each month, Brooklyn Parrot Society leads tours of the birds’ Brooklyn. For 12 years, these free and open-to-the-public ‘Wild Parrots Safaris’ have covered the Monks’ favorite haunts, including Green-Wood Cemetery and Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Since their arrival several decades ago, the parrots have created multiple colonies throughout Brooklyn. From the national historic landmark Green-Wood Cemetery to inconspicuous Flatbush blocks, the Monks have made the borough their home. After more than 40 years, one of the best places for parrot-sightings is still Brooklyn College, host of one of the oldest colonies in the area.
Legend has it Brooklyn is the site of a colossal, years-old bird’s nest (the Quaker is the only breed of parrot who builds nests for its dwelling) known as the ‘Tree of Life’. While its exact whereabouts have never been disclosed, lucky bird-lovers may gain a glimpse of the birds’ home base while wandering through Flatbush.
There’s a method to their madness: Brooklyn’s feral parrots are a surprisingly organized group. Highly-evolved language capabilities, social hierarchies, and relationship structures characterize this species, which adheres to a complex social system even in their improvised urban environment. Tip: embark on a Wild Parrots Safari to hear tour guide Stephen Baldwin explain these structures while watching them unfold before you.
Adding to the magical quality of this community is the mystery which surrounds it. To thwart the efforts of poachers, the parrots’ protectors refrain from disclosing the colonies’ exact locations. A sure way to see the birds up close? Joining a Wild Parrots Safari and pointing your eyes toward the sky.
You might expect an organization like Brooklyn Parrot Society to have a historian or ornithologist at its head. Stephen Baldwin is neither of these, but he can talk birds with the best of them. Since 2005, the 61-year old tour guide’s passion for parrots has been all the payment he needs, helping keep the group’s Wild Parrots Safaris free.