Sunday, March 22, 2009

Parakeets Gone Wild (in Connecticut)

From the New York Times:

West Haven, CT - IT’S spring, and monk parakeets, the small green birds from South America that have proliferated in Connecticut and other parts of the region, are building their huge nests in utility poles and lighting fixtures here — rebuilding, really, after their nests were torn down by utility workers last fall.

United Illuminating, the utility company, is in the midst of its twice-yearly campaign to remove the bulky nests, which they say can cause power failures and electrical fires.

West Haven is not the only battleground in the efforts to keep the birds out of utility poles and other lighting fixtures, a struggle that has pitted the utility companies and municipal agencies against animal-rights activists since the parakeets found a home in towns in the region beginning in the 1970s. In a recent survey, United Illuminating said it had counted 75 monk nests in 17 towns on its electrical poles.

In Stamford, the parks department has worked with animal advocates to build platforms as an alternative nesting site near lights in Cummings Park, where the parakeets have built nests. So far, just a few birds have moved to this alternative housing.

The exotic birds would not be so noticeable among the area’s many species of winged creatures were it not for the size of their nests and where they choose to build them. A typical nest provides a home for about 20 pairs of birds and can weigh as much as 440 pounds, officials said. The material from one nest, mostly twigs, can fill the back of a city pickup truck, they said.

Attempts to get the birds off power and lighting fixtures have proved difficult. In 2005, United Illuminating captured a number of birds and then turned them over to United States Department of Agriculture officials, who euthanized them. That caused an outcry among animal-rights advocates. Friends of Animals, a Darien-based group, sued United Illuminating to stop further killing of the birds. The suit was dismissed by a Superior Court judge last summer, but the group has filed an appeal.

Al Carbone, a spokesman for United Illuminating, said the campaign to remove the nests, which costs the utility company between $60,000 and $70,000 annually, has not proved effective. The birds like the warmth of the transformers, Mr. Carbone said, and keep returning even when their nests have been torn down once. On a recent tour of parts of West Haven, Mr. Carbone pointed out several of the nests, some the size of basketball hoops, along shoreline utility poles.

Company workers remove the nests in late March and early April, before the mating season begins, and again in the fall, typically October, well after any eggs are hatched, officials said...

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