Saturday, July 26, 2014

Monk Parakeets, Hudson River Greenway

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Monk Parakeet, Henry Hudson Parkway
I Mean You

Do you know about the Monk Parakeets of Brooklyn? Theories abound about how these Argentine birds came to live wild in New York; the leading ones seem to be that they escaped from a crate at Kennedy Airport in the late 1960s or that they were released by black-market importers when the Feds cracked down on the illegal bird trade. Whatever, they turned out to be cold hardy and colonized Green-Wood Cemetery and Brooklyn College.

In the last couple of years people started reporting these birds in upper Manhattan, especially along the Henry Hudson Parkway in the 150s, so I went uptown Friday afternoon to look for them.

I started at Riverbank State Park, about 145th Street and Riverside Drive (I took the 1 train, but the 11 bus has its last stop in the park as well). Riverbank is about 60 feet or so above the river; I'll bet its a good place to hawkwatch in the right season. Near the carousel on the north end of the park, there's a stairway (and an elevator) down to the Hudson River Greenway. I went north from there, along the narrow strip of greenway between the Henry Hudson Parkway and the river. After passing a sign for 155th street, I heard a wild, eerie screech from underneath the elevated road, and a trim green form flew past me overhead. I followed and found a roost with two of the birds in the girders under the parkway.

Ed Gaillard: birds &emdash; Monk Parakeets, Henry Hudson Parkway
Home sweet home. See how nicely they blend with the paint job?

They seem to like thick twigs and ivy leaves. They took turns flying out to gather more twigs, calling raucously on their way out and in. A lot of the weirdness of the call was due to the acoustics of the elevated roadway.

When I went back towards 145th, I saw several more parakeets--don't let the name fool you, these are big birds, not much smaller than a pigeon--flying from tree to tree. One of them flew low over the grass and buzzed a pigeon, who took off in alarm. Out from under the roadway their calls sounded like a young starling's begging call, but shriller and louder.

I sat on a bench about 150th Street, and saw two more Monks. Once you recognize the call they're easy to spot.

Monk Parakeet is my 170th species in New York County this year. That's 19 ahead of last year on July 25th, when I got my first Ruby-Throated Hummingbird of the year (missed it during Spring migration).

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