Colorful but pesky, monk parakeets move into town
By George Moore, Record-Journal staff
WALLINGFORD - Their ancestors were from South America, but monk parakeets have made their way to Wallingford.
The green birds, native to Argentina, have been thriving in southern and southwestern Connecticut since the 1970s, but central Connecticut sightings have been scarce.
A monk parakeet nest on a North Colony Road utility pole has been attracting attention. The nest, made of sticks, is tucked under the transformers. The birds' tropical green feathers stand out for New Englanders, more accustomed to earth-toned wildlife.
"I've never seen this bird anywhere else in my life," said Charles Connors, a lifelong resident of the Meriden-Wallingford area.
Eugene Rametta, who owns a local barber shop, said he started noticing the birds three or four years ago. Rametta, once a homing pigeon enthusiast, said he enjoys watching the parakeets.
"They're the greatest craftsmen you'll ever see," he said. "That nest survives rain. It survives snow."
While the birds are a curiosity in Wallingford, they have prompted fierce debate along the state's southwestern coast, where hundreds make their homes on power lines.
The United Illuminating Co. ran a program in 2005 in which workers netted the birds and then turned them over to U.S. Department of Agriculture workers, who euthanized them. The Darien-based Friends of Animals sued to halt the practice. The suit was dismissed last month and the group is looking to appeal.
In 2006, UI turned to a non-lethal program, focusing on removing nest materials rather than capturing birds. The nests are generally removed twice a year, during months when the birds are not breeding, said company spokesman Al Carbone. Long-term, the company wants to consider non-lethal deterrence measures, Carbone said.
The company has removed 66 nests within the last two months, mostly in West Haven, Carbone said. One difficulty, he said, is that the birds rebuild quickly. The company says the nests have caused power outages.
Wallingford's Electric Division has received a few reports of nests on power lines, but does not have a written policy on how to handle them, said General Manager Richard Hendershot. He said any obstruction on a power line or near a transformer is "inherently" a threat to reliability and a possible safety issue.
While the birds originally concentrated in urban areas along the shoreline, they have begun moving into suburban and rural settings the last 10 years, said Dale May, director of the Wildlife Division of the state Department of Environmental Protection. May said there are concerns that the birds could create problems as they move closer to agriculture.
"Back where they're native, they're classified as an agricultural pest," May said, "so there are some concerns about what impacts they may have ecologically or agriculturally in the Northeast."
But Priscilla Feral, who heads Friends of Animals, said the state agency has unfairly disparaged monk parakeets.
"There isn't a shred of evidence about agricultural damage among monk parakeets in the state of Connecticut," she said.
Feral said she wants to prevent companies from killing the birds or tearing down nests during the breeding period. In addition to pursuing the lawsuit, Feral said she wants to pursue legal protections for the birds through legislation.
Feral said residents should be able to enjoy watching monk parakeets. The threat of an expanding population of the birds has been overplayed, she said. An expert witness for Friends of Animals estimated there are about 1,200 in the state. The expert, Feral said, also found that many of the birds live in trees and many have been living inland for years.