One ancient cobwebby memory – hazy and indistinct – actually, I’m not sure if this happened at all, I was only a little bit o’ snot, but I was visiting some old woman and stuck my finger into her parakeet’s cage and the bastard bit the crap out of me. I don’t remember blood (and blood always sticks in a child’s memory) so it must not have been very bad. It barely hurt, but it sure embarrassed and scared the piss out of me.
Ever since, I haven’t liked parakeets.
Now there are these birds called Monk Parakeets. They don’t look like a parakeet to me, they are too big. Another name for the same bird is Quaker Parrot (and another is Myiopsitta monachus) which seems a little bit better to me. They aren’t your old spinster’s parakeet. What the hell is the difference between a parakeet and a parrot anyway?
—Back from Googling— Oh, a parakeet is simply a small parrot. A subset of parrotdom. You don’t hear the term Budgie (from budgerigar) much in Texas, which is a shame in my opinion. There are also cockatiels, which are small cockatoos. There are even parrotlets, a name that sounds almost as cool as budgerigar.
At any rate, some of these Monk Parakeet fellers escaped captivity back in the sixties and have been thriving in the wild. They have become an invasive species. That’s quite an ugly descriptor for a colorful bird, even if they bite. It’s more than a little controversial, but many people think the birds damage crops and upset the natural balance of the ecosystem.
Like a lot of people, I first heard of feral budgerigars from the documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.” I assumed it was a San Francisco sort of thing, until I started reading in the local Dallas paper about the battle between the Monk Parakeets and the local electric utility.
It seems the emerald fowl like to build their large irregular nests in the midst of high voltage power distribution systems. They may be attracted to the warmth. These grow until a stray stick shorts across an air gap, the nest catches fire, and the neighborhood goes dark.
A colony of parakeets set up housekeeping in a large transformer yard near the White Rock Lake Dam. That set up a battle between TXU and the birds, with the local animal lovers taking sides.
It’s a complicated question. They are an invasive species, like dandelions, kudzu, or the Japanese beetle. Unlike these, however, monk parakeets are a cute invasive species. Attractiveness counts for something, even if you do set fire to high voltage distribution systems.
TXU did build some towers especially designed to lure the nesting sites away from the electricity. These have been ignored by the birds. Over time, everyone seems to have settled into an uneasy truce, with moderate amounts of nest removal keeping everything under control.
I was thinking about the Monk Parakeets and realized that there is this power distribution system near my house. The local Duck Creek trail runs up to the transformer yard, because it is built under the high voltage towers that string north along the Owens trail. I had walked past the place, listened to the power hum, felt the warmth in the winter, but never looked for birds.
Have the Monk Parakeets invaded the power transformers down the road from my house? I was planning on going to the library and try to get some writing done. I’m close to getting twenty stories together for my Kindle book, but I have some editing left. Looking at my schedule, I was able to carve out a few extra minutes and stop at the power yard along the way.
Sure enough, as soon as I pulled up I saw the telltale masses of sticks lodged in between the conductors running up the towers. The birds actually live inside of these things, well protected from predators, if not high voltage. The air was filled with the raucous cackling of the birds. They can be trained to speak human without much trouble (I’ve always wanted a trained bird that cussed and insulted people) but these were very vocal in their own vernacular.
I walked around watching and listening to the Parakeets as they came and went, often bringing more sticks to enlarge their dwellings. The birds are very pretty and active – fun to keep an eye on. They were tough to photograph; there was a wall topped with barbed wire in the way and they were pretty wary about the whole thing. A sign on the wall said, “Report any Unusual Activity,” and gave a phone number.
Plus there is all that voltage. A faint whiff of ozone. It was strange to watch the delicate, active, colorful birds playing around the cables, towers, and insulators. Their cackling competed with the constant droning hum of the immense power coursing through the place, running all the air conditioners, lighting, and big screen televisions for miles around. There was no way to safely get close – no way to cross the external boundary of the transformer yard.
And that was fine with me; I didn’t want to get bit.