They live in restricted areas, travel in packs, chatter loudly and constantly, and might pick your fruit tree clean and poop on your lawn in one fell swoop.
So why are people around here so attached to the monk parakeets, animals considered pests in their homeland?
Maybe because we’re suckers for cuteness. A close look at the monk, also known as the Quaker parrot, reveals a loveable little white face peering out from a hood of bushy lime green feathers, and when the bird spreads its wings, splashes of blue color the wing and tail.
They’re pretty, all right. And they’re friendly, too. In fact, Carla Rea, who lives near White Rock Lake, says the birds speak to her every day.
“It is so cool. I can walk out on my porch almost any time of day, and they will talk to me with very distinct sounds.”
The birds have good reason to befriend Rea. For the past five years, since she moved to her home on Tokalon, Rea has been feeding pounds of safflower to the parrots twice a day.
“I have a flatbed feeder and two tube feeders now,” she says. “Every morning and evening, 30 or 40 of them come. It is such a sight that it stops traffic.”
Though Rea may be one of the most dedicated, she says she’s just one of dozens of neighbors who care for the birds.
Another White Rock area neighbor, Edna Hemphill, has fond memories of the feathery companions. Her husband Edgar, who died last spring, had an affinity for the monks.
“Every afternoon last summer, we fed them peanuts. They would swoop down and eat up all the peanuts and then flock in the trees and squawk and sing and talk to their friends until it was almost dark,” she says.
One of Edgar Hemphill’s last requests was for his wife to buy food for the parrots. She recalls their last day together: “He could barely speak, and I asked him ‘Do you want to feed the birds?’ and he shook his head up and down. I asked him if he wanted seed, and he shook his head ‘no’ and I asked ‘peanuts?’ and he shook his head ‘yes’ and held up two fingers, meaning he wanted two bags of peanuts.”
Neighbor Sara Guettel says she likes watching the birds from afar.
“I remember looking up through our trees at various times in late afternoon or early evening and seeing the silhouettes of the birds, which seemed very unlike those we were used to,” Guettel says.
“Their formation and numbers were different and their calling sounds surprising — you could tell it was not a usual Texas bird group.”
George Boyd, who works at the Wild Birds Unlimited retail store on Mockingbird at Abrams, knows exactly where to find the White Rock Lake monk parakeet colony.
“You can’t really miss it,” he says, explaining that the birds live in huge, multi-chambered straw nests in the upper branches of 25-foot-tall TXU electrical equipment.
“You’ll hear them before you see them,” he says. Native to South American countries such as Chile, southern Brazil and Argentina, the parrots enjoy extreme heat, Boyd says, and the electrical tower emits a good deal of it.
It’s a fascinating scene at the colony near the southwest shore of White Rock Lake — chain-link fences bearing ominous signs warning “DANGER”, “KEEP OUT” and “HIGH VOLTAGE” surround lofty metal towers that help power the city. You’ll also notice the relentless squawking, which can be grating at first, though it eventually settles into a strangely rhythmic pattern of screeches, chatter and song that is tolerable, if not pleasant. One pair of green chatterboxes is perched on steel extensions, and others fly to and from several sizeable nests cradled in metallic arms.
There is only speculation about how this particular spot became the birds’ neighborhood hub, Boyd says.
Some say a crate on a truck transporting them as pets some 30 years ago broke open, turning them loose. Others say neighboring pet owners grew tired of caring for the birds and let them go.
Either way, they gathered near this equipment and multiplied. Boyd says he recalls when there were just eight or so birds in one nest; today, there are hundreds.
Not everyone considers that growth a good thing. Some cities have banned the birds and even gassed them. They’ve been known to pick fruit from neighbors’ trees and gardens and have ruffled the feathers of some folks at the electric company. Back in South America, they are simply considered pests, Boyd says.
“There, but not here,” he clarifies.
A few years ago utility workers’ efforts to move some of the nests were thwarted by bird-loving neighbors.
“We knew there would be babies in those nests, and we begged them not to mess with them,” bird feeder Carla Rae says, “so they backed off.”n
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