I saw the article in last week’s Journal about the monk parakeets seen around the high school and Scoville Park, as mentioned in the Oak Leaves Dec. 2 [Where’s a bird expert when you need one? Inside Report, Dec. 8]. I feel I can shed some light on what appears to be tropical visitors to our fair village. As a librarian at the Oak Park Public Library, and an avid birder, I often get questions about the birdlife around the village. This is a question that I get from time to time.
Here in Chicago, legend has it that a crate of these birds broke open at O’Hare Airport in the early ’70s and made their way to Hyde Park, which is where some of the oldest colonies in the area occur. The birds’ claim to fame is that they were a favorite of Mayor Harold Washington, who had a colony nesting in the park outside his apartment building, and would often mention them when talking about the diversity of the city. Since then I have seen colonies of these birds in Hyde Park, Calumet Park, Addison and more recently in Berwyn and in the neighborhood of Narragansett and North Avenue in Chicago.
Monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus) are native to the lowlands east of the Andes from Bolivia to Patagonia in South America. Monk Parakeets were routinely imported as cage birds until a ban on importing them was enacted in 1993. They are native to the temperate areas of South America and are unique among parrots for constructing large stick nests, which often house two to six pairs of birds. In urban areas, they have adapted to nesting on light fixtures, power poles and, most recently, cell phone towers. The birds make their living off of ornamental fruit and nut trees and backyard bird feeders.
I haven’t seen the birds in the park yet, but will keep my eyes peeled. More often than not, you hear them screeching and squawking before you see them, as they are very fast fliers.
A book I used for this letter is “Parrots: A Guide to Parrots of the World,” by Tony Juniper and Mike Parr, 1998, Yale University Press.
A couple of local websites that will give you information about the parakeets are:
http://tinyurl.com/Neighborhood-Nature (This is a blog by some young Oak Park birders.)