Alyssa and I were driving around East Austin on Saturday, looking for East Austin Succulents and Tillery Street Plant Company. I read about them on Michele’s blog, Wabi-Sabi Home & Garden. Of course, we were getting there at at 5 o’clock and they were closing. Still, we’ll be back!
We decided to cut through the Mueller Shopping Center and we noticed the grackles gathering as they do each evening at dusk. Alyssa asked me, “Since when are grackles green?” I immediately thought how sometimes really black feathers can look blue or green and I started to mention that. But no, that is NOT what she saw. We looked over in the grass and saw a flock of what seemed like really large parakeets. Or maybe lovebirds. What??? It was kind of chilly for February in Austin, so we looked at each other in disbelief.
Alyssa immediately called Ron, who was at home. “Dad, can you get on the computer and google green birds in Austin?” She didn’t need me to solve the problem for her. And she only needed her dad because he could do it quicker from the computer at home. In seconds, he pulled up our answer: The Wild Parrots of East Austin. Once again, the same question: What???
We laughed at the idea that maybe someone left the pet store door open, and they all got out. But that was clearly not the case. Ron told us that these birds have been roaming Austin for some time now. When we asked if it was too cold for tropical birds to still be here for the winter, he said that the website he pulled up said they don’t migrate out of Austin.
We drove through the shopping center to the other side and found even more of these lime green birds. They were on the grass, on the telephone wires, in the trees. They had all the same behaviors of grackles at this time of day. We tried to get closer to them to take pictures, but they fluttered away. Another car pulled over beside us and they got out of the car to look. They were dressed up for the evening, but couldn’t resist checking out this very intriguing “wildlife” phenomenon.
We decided we needed to know a little more.
While they are known as the Wild Parrots of East Austin, they’re actually Monk Parakeets. And they have been living here in the Austin area for over 20 years! One site says they’ve been here since the 1970’s! After a brief web search, we didn’t find much; but we found several possibilities for why the birds are here. Some might be considered Urban Myths, but they’re all interesting and amusing.
From the Austin Chronicle:
According to an urban myth, the birds came from a pair kept as pets. Perhaps it is due to an account on one Monk Parakeet site, which quotes a July 1995 story by the Austin American-Statesman writer Ricardo Gandara:
In a city known from producing fake rain (remember the sprinklers on MoPac near 35th Street?) and celebrating Spamarama, it should be no surprise that Janet Gilles can stand under a light pole on Town Lake and chirp without causing much of a fuss. She calls out for monk parakeets seen grooming just before they leave their nests to eat. They chirp back. Gilles release 19 monk parakeets, natives to Argentina, in March of 1991 when they wore out their welcome as house pets.
Another story is that the first Monk Parakeets arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York City. Supposedly the crates broke and several of the birds escaped. Argentina gets cold, but I’m not sure it gets as cold as NYC! So evidently they migrated here.
Erik Hueber, a University of Texas student from the 1990’s, wrote a paper that is quoted in several places on the internet. While his paper appears to be gone from the UT website, his link to mapswhere he spotted nests is still available. These nests were there in the late 90’s, and we haven’t checked them out if they’re still there – YET!
Wikipedia offers this information about their nests:
The Monk Parakeet is the only parrot that builds a stick nest, in a tree or on a man-made structure, rather than using a hole in a tree. This gregarious species often breeds colonially, building a single large nest with separate entrances for each pair. In the wild, the colonies can become quite large, with pairs occupying separate “apartments” in nests that can reach the size of a small automobile. These nests can attract many other tenants including birds of prey such as the Spot-winged Falconet, ducks such as the Yellow-billed Teal, and even mammals. Their 5-12 white eggs hatch in about 24 days.
Yelp.com has a page devoted to the Wild Parrots of East Austin. You can look there to see where some of the latest sitings are. The most recent says there’s a large nest behind the Frisco Restaurant on Burnet Rd.
So keep your eyes peeled! Look up at the tall light poles near Town Lake. Or at Butler Fields near the Zach Scott Theatre. Or drive around the outskirts of Mueller shopping center like Alyssa and I did. They can’t be too far away; maybe you’ll get a chance to glimpse these curious birds. And if you do, comment here and let me know where you found them.
Hmmm, it’s getting late… maybe we should go to the Frisco tonight and see if we can catch a glimpse of these beautiful birds coming home to roost.
(Be sure to open the Comment section below. The Travis County Audubon Society sent a list of where some of these nests are. They’re not just in East Austin. One could be in your neighborhood!! How cool would that be?)