My recollection of monk parakeets arriving in Chicago was sometime during the mid-1980s when Harold Washington was mayor of Chicago. Because of the birds’ large bulky nests, sometimes built on power poles, the utility company wanted them eradicated. Mayor Washington so enjoyed the presence of the parakeets at his Hyde Park residence that he fought for their survival. His untimely death inspired the Harold Washington Memorial Parakeet Defense Fund that crushed the city’s plans to remove the birds in 1988.
In their native Argentina the parakeets were known as agricultural pests. The urban birds offend no one but there are still those that think non-native birds should be removed.
My experience with the birds began in Corpus Christi, Texas at a motel known to have hosted a large colony of monk parakeets for the last 20 years. Their nesting tree, a Washingtonia palm, was dead but a number of the parakeets were rearranging their communal apartments getting ready to lay eggs. The birds were gregarious and charming, sometimes squabbling with their neighbors over property rights.
The most striking thing about them, besides their beautiful coloring, was their courting behavior and obvious affection between the pairs. At one such moment I could hardly believe my eyes - she with her head on his chest and he bending down to kiss her.
The owners of the motel were an Indian couple that had signage displaying the presence of the parakeets. Every morning between 7 and 8 a.m. Mr. Bhakta fed the birds. My visits were during that time also, since the early morning sun was in the optimal direction for best light photography.
Nearing the end of my stay in Texas, there were several days and nights of 45 to 50 mile an hour winds. My last visit to the site revealed the nest completely gone. There were several birds still there in chambers that were in the top trunk of the dead tree.
After arriving home, I sent Mr. and Mrs. Bhakta copies of my parakeet images. When Mrs. Bhakta called to thank me, she said that the motel had been sold and the parakeets were no longer there. We planned to visit again in July.
The Audubon Outdoor Club of Corpus Christi advised me that the parakeets had picked out a new site, not very far from the motel location - Our Lady of Corpus Christi Retreat Center. The new site boasted beautifully healthy Washingtonia palms. The priests and nuns were most friendly and accommodating to any of my future visits.
There is something to be said about the dynamics of these special birds. How can they survive the harsh winters of Chicago coming from an equatorial zone? What is in their makeup to allow vitality in this harsh and unwelcome environment? Birds are true miracles, with a spirit and fortitude and intelligence beyond our imagination.