Yesterday, walking along Flatbush, I passed a gentleman who had just emerged from McDonalds and who, by his dress, had hopefully seen better times. He looked as if, at some point in his life, he had tried in his way to be free. The man didn’t look at me but above me, towards the source of several throaty graaas and skveets. (I must confess that, at the time, I didn’t realize what I was hearing were graaas and skveets; but the reference materials I’ve since read assure me that’s indeed what I heard.) After I passed the man, I heard him crying out excitedly behind me, and turned to find him looking skyward. Pointing to the top of the telephone pole that stood between us, he approached me and said, “Peruvian parrots! I heard about them a year ago, but this is the first time I’ve seen them!” I looked up and, to be sure, several bright green birds sat on the telephone wire or fluttered in and out of the stick nest they had crafted around the transformer.
“They’re the only parrots that make their nests like that,” I told him. “Other parrots just use a hole in a tree.” The birds often breed colonially in their single large nests, with separate entrances for each couple. Known as Monk Parakeets, or Quaker Parrots, the birds belong to a species of parrots that originally hailed from Brazil and Argentina. Legend has it that in 1967 or 1968, a large shipment of the birds, destined for sale at New York City pet shops, escaped at JFK. Over the prevailing decades, the birds established their domain and now, throughout Brooklyn, their nests are commonplace atop telephone poles, created around the warmth of the transformers (which apparently sometimes overheat and catch fire).
According to the experts, the birds are highly intelligent and social creatures. Those kept as pets routinely develop large vocabularies. The in-the-wild Brooklyn variety, however, are only known to say “Oy vey!” and “Fuhgeddaboudit!”
Yesterday, the man, still mesmerized by the site of the brightly colored wildlife, an unexpected gift outside the golden arches, reached over and touched my arm as he said, “They’re a blessing.”