Also known as the Quaker Parakeet, these birds have been present in large numbers in New York City for 40 years. They gained a foothold in the United States in the late 1960's, when the birds began to be imported as pets – many escaped their captors, or were released, and their numbers quickly ballooned. It is believed that the population in New York was established when they escaped from a shipping container at John F. Kennedy Airport in either 1967 or 1968 – the exact date and circumstances of this incident remain shrouded in mystery (that may be due to a connection with organized crime and some of their shenanigans gone awry).
Though they are an invasive species, there is some dispute as to whether these birds are a nuisance. Their massive nests can cause problems, and some power companies often remove them from utility poles. New York City embarked on an eradication program in the early 1970's, but to no avail, and today the birds are established in at least 15 states from Massachusetts to Florida and as far west as Oklahoma. I just think they are a welcome, if raucous, splash of color and sound on a dreary winter day.
If you want to learn more about the tropical birds that flourish in wintry New York, there are a couple of websites you should visit. BrooklynParrots.com organizes birdwatching trips to their regular hangouts; their next outing will be January 9th at Brooklyn College, which has one of the longest-established colonies. Wild Parrots of New York also posts sightings with photos and other information, so send them your hot tips.
New York City is actually a wonderful place for a birdwatcher. The city is ideally situated for viewing migratory birds – the Atlantic Flyway passes right through here, as most northeastern birds head south through New England, then bank west and fly the length of Long Island to avoid flying over open ocean. That makes what little green space the city has prime real estate in this migratory bottleneck, meaning urban parks like Central Park and Prospect Park are packed with birds. The city's waterfront parks, like Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and Manhattan's Inwood Hill Park, are also great for birdwatching; Jamaica Bay in Queens is a massive bird sanctuary within the city limits, and it is a wonderful site for viewing marshland and shore birds of all varieties. Once the weather turns warm again and the ferry reopens, Governors Island is a great spot as well, and the National Park Service has regular free birdwatching programs run by volunteer Annie Barry.
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