Monk parakeets in the locusts Chinese pistache

August 10, 2010

Terri Potts Smith showed up bright and early for work — was it in the spring? — and we talked in our first floor Dirksen Senate Office Building office about the grind we faced ahead with the hearing schedule for the Senate Labor Committee and subcommittees.  Suddenly she was transfixed by something out the window.

Having just recently learned that terrorists favored that particular corner for planting bombs under cars, I started a bit.  Terri explained, astonished, that a red bird flew into the tree out the window.

It was a cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), a common bird, but not one common to Utah, where both of us had grown up.

I think of that often these days, and am still constantly startled, to see green birds flit across the streets of Duncanville, Texas.

Monk parakeetsMyiopsitta monachus. Also known as the Quaker parrot.

Monk parakeets in the locusts, Duncanville, Texas, August 10, 2010 - photo by Ed Darrell, use with attribution encouraged

Monk parakeets profiled in the Chinese pistache, Duncanville, Texas, August 10, 2010 - photo by Ed Darrell; more than a dozen birds are hidden deeper in the tree.

Monk parakeets are invasive in Texas — it is thought the wild flocks developed from a few dozen escapees in the past three decades.  They favor nesting on tall electrical poles — the stadium lights of the high school and college football stadia host a lot, as do electrical transmission lines.  At Verizon Wireless we had at least one occasion when one of our cell tower climbers was attacked by one of the birds, apparently a mother just after the chicks had hatched.  Cell towers provide excellent habitat for the birds.

At the best sitings I’ve had, previously I lacked a camera.  Today I happened to have the small Pentax Optio V20.  20 to 30 of the birds roosted along an electrical wire.  They were happy to see me until I pulled out the camera.  (Pure conjecture:  They’re smart.  They’ve seen people with cameras before — and frequently, shortly after that some crew appears with a cherry-picker to destroy their nests.  Camera-shyness is a survival function for the birds.)

Cute little beggars.

Monk parakeets flocking -- collecting nesting materials?  Photo by Ed Darrell

Monk parakeets flocking -- collecting nesting materials?

All I observed was social activity and some preening, except for the one bird flitting around with a stick in its bill.

And the two who were trying to pull tape off of electrical transmission wires.

Monk parakeets assaulting an electrical transmission line.  Photo by Ed Darrell

Monk parakeets working to get a charge out of life, picking at insulation on an electrical wire.

Troublemakers.

Truth be told, I’ll take the monk parakeets in greater profusion, if we can reduce the populations of starlings, grackles and cowbirds.

Is there any evidence of the parakeets preying on songbirds?

Monk parakeet in the <del>locust</del> Chinese pistache tree - photo by Ed Darrell - IMGP2237

Monk parakeet in the Chinese pistache tree. All photos by Ed Darrell, use with attribution encouraged.

[Update: Oops.  Looked like a locust tree on a quick look.  A longer look, I wasn’t so sure.  Kathryn confirmed that it’s really a Chinese pistache, Pistacia chinensis.]

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