Monk Parakeet Nests Destroyed!

Pelham Bay Park South

History

In early December of 2010, I was informed by email that Monk Parakeet nests, that have been in existence for as long as I can remember, were destroyed. They were destroyed when light poles were being renovated in the ball field near Rice Stadium in Pelham Bay Park. These were no ordinary nests, they were part of an extensive colony that was a major attraction for park visitors. The nests were huge, probably reaching six feet across and three feet high.

This is a photo of one of the destroyed nests. I took this shot with a P&S camera during one of our walks because of the presence of the Red-tailed Hawk.

   Upon hearing of the removal, several emails were sent to the Parks Department, as well as NYC Audubon. Telephone calls were also made. Dr. Bob DeCandido, a local ecologist and expert on Pelham Bay Park flora and fauna, wrote several emails and tenaciously pursued authorities for an answer. In the meantime, emails poured into this website. People used words like “heartbroken” to describe the removal of the nests. One teacher based an entire curriculum on the parrots, bringing classes to the park for a culmination of his program. Dog walkers, nearby residents, birders and non-birders alike were angry and outraged. Apparently these Monk Parakeets became very dear to most park goers.

    We learned, through Brooklyn Parrots. com, that when lights were replaced in Leif Erickson Park in Brooklyn, new platforms were installed for the parakeets. Link here to see the story. This what we are now asking for from the Parks department. The problem is timing, it’s getting colder and crews may be adverse to working outside. Let’s keep on top of this!  Below is a record of what has transpired....

Link here for a description of the demolishing of the colony.

Some excerpted comments from emails I received....


“Oh wow, Jack. This is awful. I am so aggravated by the way they choose to do things”


“So the timing and the actual removal of the Parakeets seems to be more of the same uncaring behaviour. I think the parks dept needs a naturalist.”


“I’m very upset about this.”


“I don't understand what the problem with leaving them alone might have been.  They did not damage the park or our surroundings.  I live 3 blocks from their now destroyed home.  My husband and I enjoyed their antics and brought them seed every winter.”


“Hi Jack, it seems this is just another case of short sightedness on the part of the system called the " Parks Dept.". They remain isolated from the reality of what they are supposed to be protecting.”


“With a broken heart I witnessed the destruction of the Parakeet's nests on the lights, I voiced my opinion to the people actually doing it, while they were doing it, it is really sad, why did they chose this time of the year when it is already getting cold, why didn't they do it earlier to perhaps allow the birds to find a suitable nesting area during the summer?”



“I only discovered these birds myself recently, when I took an ornithology course requiring a final term paper on a local subject.  Having seen the birds on City Island, I decided to make the parakeets the subject of my paper.  I then heard about the nests in Pelham Bay and went to visit.  Many, many more visits followed, often with friends who couldn't believe that we had a parrot colony right here in the Bronx.  I really treasured those birds, and I'm greatly distressed at your news.  Do you know if any provisions were made for the animals?  I'm interested in also knowing exactly how the nests were destroyed, and if birds were first removed from the interior of the nest.  Are there any plans to provide temporary nesting platforms or enclosures?  Since the Parks Department was behind this "project", I would love to think that they recognize that the parks are not only for the humans, but for the animals as well, and that the animals present can enhance the desirability of the park.”


“I was proud to introduce teachers to Pelham Bay Park. (none of whom had ever been to the areas we ventured through) However, now I feel that if something like this can happen so quickly and absent of foresight, what's next?


Letter from Dr. Bob DeCandido


Dear Mr. Kavanaugh,


In early December, an entire colony of Monk Parakeet nests were removed from the light towers in the southern zone of Pelham Bay Park, Bronx. These Monks have been nesting on those light towers since the 1990s, and in Pelham Bay Park since the 1980s. If you are unfamiliar with these tropical parakeets, have a look at this web site:


http://www.brooklynparrots.com/


I can also send scientific and popular articles about these birds from other cities in the USA including Chicago - where they have been intensively studied for the last 20 years by ornithologists, college students and folks who live near them.


Throughout NYC, and particularly in the Pel Bay area, the Monk Parakeets are very popular - indeed the Parks Department even touted their presence in the park (see article below from a Columbia University Newspaper, 2006).


It is with serious dismay, shock and concern that we learned of the complete nest removal of the entire Monk colony in one of the worst months of the year for such an action. NOTE BENE: none of us are averse to removing nests for work on the lights - indeed this has been done before at Pel Bay Park by Con Edison workers who were quite careful in what they did. However, we are opposed - to what seems to be - a random decision to remove all the nests at this time of the year. We ask this question: was any study by a Parks Dept biologist (indeed any consideration) given to when the best time for this work to prevent the loss of an entire nesting colony of Monks? The Monk Parakeets are a symbol of Pel Bay Park - well-known and liked by locals and even the folks who use the former Rice Stadium ball fields and sports facility. Why should the Parks Department want to "shoot itself in the foot" by harming birds that are lovely to look at, interesting to watch and most importantly, quite popular with locals. Studies have shown that such work should have been done in August through October.


We are perplexed at this act of destruction - particularly since the Parks Dept has worked with locals in other parts of the city to insure the safety of the lights and the nests of Monk Parakeets - AS RECENTLY AS JUNE 2010. We commend the Parks Department for this win-win action in Brooklyn at Leif Erickson Park:


http://www.brooklynparrots.com/2010/06/update-on-bay-ridge-parrots.html


There has got to be a better way to go about doing light work in Parks - and the above link highlights an incredibly successful policy. What happened in Pelham Bay Park this year? Why was a successful strategy abandoned?


WE REQUEST THE FOLLOWING: since the work on the light towers at Pel Bay Park is ongoing - new lights are being installed for the remainder of December - why not follow the example of the policy established in Brooklyn? Namely, have bird-friendly nest structures installed several feet below the new lights. This seems to be a win-win for all - it allows the opportunity for the Monks to return to nest. Most importantly, it will keep them away from the lights and associated electrical wiring. It would seem to be in everyone's interest to have safety - to allow the use of lighting at night to encourage baseball and other sports - and also have the Monks return.


Mr. Kavanaugh - swift and decisive action is needed - namely a directive that the Brooklyn policy must be followed at Pelham bay Park, and in other similar situations in NYC. Right now the contractor trucks and lifts are on-site in Pelham Bay Park - they can do the work! Right now the knowledge and technology to install alternate nest platforms exists within NYC Parks - a quick phone call to the folks who did the work in Leif Erickson Park would set in motion a magnificent resolution to this problem. Everyone would be happy: from Glenn Phillips and his colleagues at NYC Audubon, to the Commissioner Adrian - who likely saw Monk Parakeets during Sarah Elliott bird walks in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I would be happy too - I could write wonderful glowing words about how the Parks DEpartment worked in concert with local groups to protect one of NYC's biodiversity gems - and have baseball games too.


I'll conclude with this - I grew up in the Bronx playing baseball on those fields in the 1970s - we would have dropped dead if we saw a green, blue and cream colored birds - indeed up to 60 of them these days. Mostly we saw broken glass and crime. I ran track at Rice Stadium - and watched it fall down in the late 1980s during the Henry Stern regime. When I worked at Parks (on and off from the mid 1980s through 2001) - and was simultaneously doing my PhD research in Pel Bay Park, I had the opportunity to study the interaction of the Monks and people. Rarely have I seen a fondness for a group of birds. Right now there is an opportunity to continue that relationship - of people, athletes and yes, small exquisite birds from the tropics. That is biodiversity - that is NYC. Please act swiftly - there is no time to lose.

                                                                               


Letter from Marianne Anderson, Pelham Bay Parks Administrator


There seems to be a bit of misinformation.  The nests on the ballfield light towers were not removed because they were a fire hazard.  The light poles were being replaced and reconstructed.

Let me give you some background information. The ballfield light towers were installed in 1980/81.  As I recall, the first monk parakeet nests were noticed sometime in the mid-80s, according to Tony Emmerich and Dave Kunstler.  The birds have been a fun, entertaining addition to the park and I know that many people, including myself, have enjoyed their presence.

Over the years, the light towers have been inspected periodically by our Engineering Division.  In 2006, it was determined that the poles were deteriorating, some worse than others.  Bases were found with cracks and deteriorating concrete, some had exposed anchor bolts, corrosion around the base plates, etc.  In 2008, five poles were determined to be a safety hazard and were removed via emergency contract.  Before their removal, the Urban Park Rangers reached out to NYS DEC, USDA, and NYC Audubon (who reached out to the Bronx Zoo) to determine what might need to be done regarding the monk parakeets.  We were advised that fall would be the better time of year to take the poles down and that the birds would have enough time to join or re-establish nests in the park or nearby areas.  Before the poles came down, we made arrangements for the Rangers to go up in a bucket truck and examine all the nests for eggs/fledglings.

This year, funding became available to replace the five missing light poles as well as make necessary repairs/upgrades to the remaining seven poles. The light fixtures needed to be removed to make the repairs. Again, before the fixtures were taken down, the Rangers went up and inspected the nests, following the same procedures and the advice that fall was the better time of year to remove the nests. Granted it’s unfortunate that it has gotten colder quicker this year.

Regarding the “fire hazard” miscommunication… there have been two electrical fires over the last two years, one last spring (I believe) and one this summer.  However, the nests were not removed because they posed a hazard – they’ve been there for more than 25 years.   

I know that our light fixtures are no longer built with cages around them, and the contract does not have a platform included.  However, I am definitely willing to explore any options that are available.  I understand that Brooklyn has done this successfully and we can certainly look into cost/installation.

Also, maybe someone can confirm/refute this…. I know there’s monk parakeets in Crotona Park (which is far away), but I’ve also heard from various folks who say that they’ve noticed them on City Island and in Country Club and Spencer Estates.  The population has certainly been growing and it was my hope that there was somewhere nearby for the birds to join a colony.

 

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Reply to Ms. Anderson’s Letter


Dear Marianne:


Many thanks for your detailed response on the Monk Parakeets of Pel Bay Park. As Park Administrator, you could be that rare four-leaf we have all been hoping to find. Yes I agree - the Monks are happily recognized by everyone in the park - and are a biodiversity gem of New York City. Let's look ahead for what we can do to insure the Monks return to build their winter homes (and nests) as soon as possible at the ball fields - where they have been for twenty years at least. (For background information on the Monk Parakeet situation at Pelham Bay Park, see the web site of "City Island Birds" by Jack Rothman - specifically, this page: http://www.cityislandbirds.com/Monk_Parakeets.html ).


NEST CAGES! NEST CAGES: How to make an enclosure that the Monks will accept somewhere on the existing light towers? In Brooklyn at Leif Erickson Park, the Parks Department working with local folks (e.g., Steve Baldwin at Brooklyn Parrots) saved the "light cages" that the Monks had been using. Those light cages (with stick nests) were simply and easily lowered about 15 feet below where the new lights were installed. So the first question is, did anyone save the "old" light cages? We can re-use them and this would be the easiest, fastest and best route to go. It would be even better if the light cages had the original sticks still in them...I really blame myself here because if I would have known this work was going to happen, I would have made advance plans to insure that the contractor saved the original light cages. See info here: http://www.brooklynparrots.com/2010/06/update-on-bay-ridge-parrots.html


What to do if the original light cages are no longer available? Here is where the talented people of the Bronx can really shine. There must be someone willing to design and build some simple structures pronto...and this is important because the MONKS ARE RE-BUILDING THEIR STICK NESTS RIGHT NOW (19 December) ATOP THE CRANES (lifts) THAT ARE  IN THAT AREA.  


Here is what we need from the good folks at the Parks Department: can someone determine if the original light cages still exist somewhere (talk to the contractor doing the work), so that they might be used again? If those original cages cannot be located, the Parks Dept. must quickly work out an acceptable design for new nest cages?  I would be happy to supply designs and advice - all we need is a flat platform for the time being. (B) Can someone tell the contractor on-site at Pel Bay Park that these nest cages are significantly important? (C) A timetable has to be set up for when the installation of the nest cages will occur. (D) Can someone at Parks make sure that these nest cages are installed as quickly (soon!) as possible? This could be done before the new lights are installed. Parks people will have to do direct ongoing oversight of the work the contractor is doing. You will certainly receive reports about how much progress is being made from park visitors such as myself.


Finally, let's look ahead to two different scenarios in spring 2011.  In the first scenario, I see a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the restoration of the ball fields at Pelham Bay Park. The Commissioner gives a few words of praise for how everyone worked together to get the ball fields and Monks back to where they belong. I see ball players in uniform and kids looking for four-leaf clovers in the grass. By comparison, the alternate scenario is not as colorful. There are no Monk Parakeet nests (nor any Monks nearby). People and TV reporters are asking "Where are the Monks?" Since this is the holiday season and everyone has high hopes for the new year, let's work toward the first scenario. It might just be possible to make everyone happy - for a little while.


Peace on earth and good will to all things,


Robert DeCandido PhD

The Bronx


Update: Ms. Anderson is working on putting up a temporary platform and then restoring the cages, she understands how important this is to many park goers. Because of the extreme weather, it has been difficult to begin work. I will keep you updated.