Saturday, April 7, 2012

A monkish encounter

Monk Parakeet at the Power Station

This post will be short and to the point, but I can't let the sighting of a life bird go by without mention. Since my Ultimate Birding Year has gone out the window, I have been focusing my bird trips on finding new species for my Illinois state list, and today's target species was: monk parakeet.

This species is originally from far south of our border (both Illinois' and the United States' -- they are from countries like Brazil and Argentina), but has established feral colonies in Chicago. Because of their location, in areas of the city that are somewhat iffy, I didn't expect to see one any time soon. For those city-dwellers who stride into any urban area without fear, and who may therefore scoff at my reluctance, let me point out that I am, despite being moderately well-traveled, a small-town gal at heart, and am a hardcore Rural Birder. And my husband Greenturtle is even more wary of Chicago than I am. So I had kind of scratched "monk parakeet" of my list of hoped-fors.

Until I started seeing reports of them in DuPage County, such as at a power station by Churchill Woods, a small park outside of the upscale suburb of Glen Ellyn. Except for possible glimpses of affluenza victims, I didn't think I would find anything too intimidating about that area.

There was still the sizable drive to consider, though. Should I be ashamed that I have become the sort of birder who will drive five hours round trip to see one species, and consider it a day well spent? Should I only confess this in hushed tones, or seek the help of a support group?

Although he's a good sport about the whole birding thing (mostly), I suspect that Greenturtle just didn't get it.

"It's not like it's some rare bird," he pointed out. "You can see them in pet stores!"

"But I can't put them on my life list if I see them in a pet store," I retorted.

"Well, what's the difference? The only reason they're up there is because someone let them loose. They don't belong here. It's not like a 'real bird.'"

"You just don't understand birders," said I. "Birding's like a controlled form of OCD. Birders love to make lists, and there are rules about what can and can't go on the lists, and the rules say that monk parakeets can go on my list as long as I see them in the wild, so I want to go."

"They're not in the wild! They're nesting in a power station!"

In my defense, wild or not, some people find the parakeets fascinating.

Despite the serious case of not-getting-it, he was willing to make the trip, and two and a half hours later we were strolling around the Churchill Woods looking for the little buggers. I saw my first great egret of the year, a belted kingfisher, and a great blue heron rookery with a good dozen nests, but no parakeets.

It was a tiny park. They had been sighted just a few days ago. How could I be missing them? Greenturtle consulted his smart phone, and stated that we needed to go a bit farther down the road, where we found a parking area by a bike trail and, lo and behold, a power station. But where were the parakeets?

Before very long, a loud parroty chattering carried to us from the area behind the fence, and we soon saw about a half dozen of them, flying back and forth to the nearby hedge, and returning with sticks and such to use in the building of their nest. Since monk parakeet nests are said to be enormous contraptions, I suspect that this one is still in its beginning stages.

We watched them working on the nest in progress for a while, until I could not help but comment, "They're so cute! Don't you think so?"

And Greenturtle said something that I never expected to hear: "Yeah, they're cute."

And that is why, pet store refugee or not, monk parakeets are worth a trip to see! Because they are adorable!


  1. I would definitely like to add this one to my list the next time I venture to Chicago.