Wildlife Wednesday: January 2015

monk parakeet
Austin has a few colonies of monk parakeets. Here’s a blurry shot of one from our neighbourhood.

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.

Message received.

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.

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34 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday: January 2015

    1. That really surprises me that you haven’t seen them since they can be found nearly everywhere in the US. With climate change so much more will change.

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  1. I have to admit, I was as stunned as your park dad was the first time I saw the monk parakeets hanging out on the telephone wires above a soccer field in Austin several years ago. I thought they seemed completely out of place…tropical birds in a not so tropical place, not to mention in the middle of winter! It seemed I was in an alternate reality, but what a magical treat it was – to be transported to a child-like state of awe for a fleeting moment.

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  2. spot on debra – we have surely moved far beyond what is and isnt ‘a native species’ as if we have the ‘rights ‘of it all. afterall by our very ‘use’ of the environment shows us up as a species that doesnt have much of a clue. I hadnt thought of freedom and harmony as being a bit dusty and realise I better get out my broom and seriously sweep us onward.
    and again you are right it is more than hope required now it is Action and we each must do out part. so looking to nature and all her adaptive behaviours can be the guide lines we need to shift our centre from commerce to respect and living with….
    sandra

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  3. There are a few colonies of these delightful birds in London and Hertfordshire.The government organised a cull and over 5 years it has cost £259.000. They have killed 62 birds and destroyed 212 eggs. So it has cost £945 per bird or egg. Against any evidence it was decided that the birds would become a pest and would destroy crops and nest on buildings. I don’ t know how many crops they actually grow in London. They have proved to pose no threat at all and they delight owners of suburban bird tables.
    Our government is keen on destroying wildlife. The badger cull has cost £6.3 million and has killed 1,879 of these beautiful animals. My maths isn’ t great but I think that works out at £3000 per dead badger. A wicked waste of money. Persecution of these wonderful creatures hasn’ t done anything to help prevent bovine TB. I believe mice, voles, foxes and dear can carry TB. Perhaps we had better just kill all our wild animals. And then you would stiil have the problem of cats. They can get T.B too.

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    1. I remember reading about the badger cull and thinking that it sounded perfectly insane. That astonishment turned to horror when I learned the details. I just don’t understand how people can be so clueless and reckless about wildlife.

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  4. Great post! I love the story of the car journey – I remember many similar ones from my own childhood. Back before the days of rear seat belts in cars, all 6 of us kids used to pile into the back of my Dad’s estate car. As I’m sure you can imagine, there was always a lot of squabbling! I’ve never seen parakeets in the wild, though I’ve heard that there are a number of places in the UK where they breed. I think they are a bit more of a nuisance here, though… As for modern society, consumer culture makes me very uncomfortable. Hopefully in time more people will learn nature’s lesson and we’ll become a well-adapted species. At the moment, however, I feel that we are the most invasive species in existence. :( Thank you for a wonderfully informative and insightful post.:D

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    1. Thanks. Six! That must have been as much fun as it was squishy. I can just picture it. It sure is funny how things that once seem perfectly normal can become less so.

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  5. Oh, how I would love to look out my window and see a parakeet! Beautiful post. I love grackles even though they sometimes have an obnoxious personality and their noise can get tiresome. They’re still a living, breathing creature. Many people just see a big black bird. But if you look at them closely you see the beauty in their reflective colors and in the way they walk.

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    1. I totally agree. They are beautiful and elegant birds. I love their long tails. When they stretch their necks up to the sun they have the grace of ballet dancers.

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    1. If they can live in Chicago they probably can live just about anywhere. I encourage you to do an internet search to see if there are any near you.

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  6. Such a wonderful read, so well intertwined. I loved the thought of them as a small group of hippies…i instantly pictured one of them with a head band and another with a ring of flowers, lol! I do think humankind needs to address their own invasive nature. Denial seems to be the biggest problem. Why as a culture do we not value harmony and co-existence over superfluous material goods.

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    1. Thanks, Laurin. I think we are taught from an early age to be consumers. That’s good news because it means it is a behaviour we could change.

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  7. Debra – I hope you are counting me in that number of grackle-lovers. If not, make it four. I realize they are not natives, often considered pests, and personally suffered through an especially spectacular invasion of them in Houston several decades ago. But I can’t quite shake my admiration for their adaptive behaviors and cheeky demeanor.

    Your post is wonderfully provocative. As my personal journey towards more native and wildlife supportive gardening continues, I am finding it more rather than less difficult to parse what it means to be “native”. And past that, how much weight to put towards that designation. As our temperatures and climate conditions continue to shift, and as migratory and other behavior patterns reflect those shifts, how rigid ought we be in assigning such status?

    With the monk parakeets at least, a point is well made that some adaptive population groups can be welcomed without fear it will spell the End of Our Natives as We Know Them. And while I’d like to think the ongoing extinctions of various native plants and creatures not only can but will be slowed with careful actions on all our parts, I do realize the process in abstract is in itself “natural”.

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    1. I had a kind of an epiphany watching them. I thought it would be interesting to think about what it means to be a well-adapted species. I realized the most invasive and most destructive species is — us. No other being even comes close. Rather than get mired in guilt I pushed back asking: How could my family do a better job of fitting in within our natural limits? We already do some things right but I am sad to say there is a LOT of room for improvement. And so that is the starting point for a new year.

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  8. So, yeah to all of the above. I was over at the Mueller development not too long ago and stopped to watch the show of parakeets, grackles, squirrels and doves–just as you described. I see parakeets, usually 3-5 at a time, flying across my neighborhood at times. I always smile at their loud, similar-but-different-than-grackle cawing. I know they don’t really belong here, but as you’ve said, they haven’t caused the environmental catastrophe predicted.

    Our network is fragile. I do hope that my generation’s grandchildren will see hummingbirds and songbirds, and monarchs. I hope it doesn’t just become a world of “ravens, grackles and crows” as I heard one Audubon scientist lament recently. All we can do is preserve what we can and appreciate and teach.

    Thanks for joining in and happy 2015 to you and your parakeets.

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    1. Happy 2015. I think if we want future generations to have the opportunity to enjoy wild things we all need to do more than hope. We will need to make big changes — like how you replaced turf grass with native plants. My project for last year was to reduce the plastic coming into the house. This year I will be looking at our use of electricty and water.

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  9. This is really upbeat and positive Debra, you are so right too, folk could do very well to take note, What a great way of viewing these Monk Parakeets too. We do not have Grackles over here but I love that name its so evocative.

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