Monk Parakeets And Impossible Things
Seeing birds take flight from a field lifts my heart. I happened to share this moment with a young family taking a stroll through the park. The dad asked, “Were those … parrots?” He directed the question to me. As a person with a camera I guess I erroneously looked like someone-who-knows-things.
His hesitation suggested wonder. As though he were really asking, “Are those … Pixies?” Or some other impossible thing.
Our local monk parakeets hang out in a gang led by grackles with the occasional token dove or squirrel thrown into the mix. I’d like to say the group forages peacefully but we all know how grackles and doves endlessly bicker among themselves. I see them and flashback to a 2000+ km summer road trip where I was squeezed between two brothers in the back seat of the family coupe. My parents were chain smokers who insisted the windows stay closed. One brother was a budding environmentalist who harangued them the entire distance. My being car sick from start to finish just added to the ambience. So where you might see bickering birds I see something that feels comfortable and natural — a scene that reminds me of family.
While more lively than peaceful, the group does cooperate as it wades through the grass looking for choice bits. Then for no reason that is clear to me the main grackle will make a call they all recognize & en masse they rise up and fly toward a new field where the grackles will presumably eat the bugs while the parakeets and doves will take care of the fruit and seeds.
Here to Stay
So many introduced species have become invasive monsters we tend to mistrust new things. Ligustrum, kudzu, cane toads and starlings brought us a world of trouble. At the appearance of feral monk parakeets in the 1960s people saw another jerk pulling apart our tattered web of life. Fruit growers had nightmares about tsunamis of green feathers devouring their crops.
Didn’t happen. Very few places consider them a problem even after 50 years. Their numbers stay small. They don’t compete with others for nesting spaces. They seem to prefer living in urban areas using things like cell phone towers and telephone poles as spaces to build their twig palaces.
There are lots of stories about how monk parakeets arrived in the Northern hemisphere from their native Argentina. These stories usually involve a shipping accident at an airport. I’ve seen this same origin story associated with the Brooklyn, Chicago and Austin colonies. Urban myth or preponderance of careless workers? Some kind of avian underground rail-road? I’ll let you decide.
However they got here I think the story’s main ideas are freedom and harmony. As I type those words freedom and harmony I realize that nobody talks about those things any more except maybe as parts of a holiday greeting. They have become old fashioned. Dusty. As impossible as a flock of parrots living in Chicago.
What Does it Mean to be a Well-Adapted Species?
Invasive species taught us important lessons about the fragility of the network of life but maybe it is just as important to think about what makes a creature well-adapted to a place.
We (people) do share or could share some characteristics in common with these birds. Like them we are smart, long lived and tend to be social.
How do we differ? They cooperate with other living beings and stay within the natural limits of the environment. I think that philosophy could offer a foundation for living the good life. Our current model of endless consumption and the denial of natural limits hasn’t exactly created a paradise.
So when I see these little birds snuggling together on tree branches or wading through abandoned fields and parks in search of fallen seeds they look like so much more than the descendants of escaped pets. I like to think of them as a symposium of birdbrained professors or maybe back to the land hippies having a picnic. I could go either way but maybe I should think of them as expert accountants suggesting I take a closer look at how I am managing our household’s use of resources. We can do more to be a well-adapted family.
More About Wildlife Wednesday
Once upon a time Tina at My Gardener Says decided the first Wednesday of the month would be a great day to share pictures and stories about wildlife. If you like things on the wild side I encourage you to check out her blog. You should find links from everywhere and anywhere.