A Green Thought in a Green Shade

by Henry Farrell on May 25, 2004

I’m in Europe at the moment for research, and staying with friends in Brussels while I do academic interviews with political types. The place I’m in has a nice big back garden (property is relatively cheap here) which is periodically invaded by flocks of wild green parrots that have gone native. It’s delightful – a splash of the exotic in a notoriously unexotic city. Apparently though, many of the locals are unimpressed – the parrots build big, ugly communal nests resembling poorly built rafts that are a bit of an eyesore in winter, when the leaves drop off the trees. How the parrots themselves make it through the winter, I don’t know. According to the “National Geographic”:http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/04/0407_030407_parakeets.html, Brussels isn’t the only city in temperate climes to support a wild parrot population; there are thriving flocks in London, San Francisco and elsewhere.



douglass truth 05.25.04 at 7:25 pm

I saw a big round nest – about 4′ in diameter – in Chicago. Parrots coming and going in a Chicago winter. Couldn’t believe my eyes.


Ayjay 05.25.04 at 7:28 pm

Believe it or not, there’s a large colony of monk parakeets in Chicago’s Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago. The birds mentioned in the National Geographic have only been around for a decade or so, but the parakeets were first seen in Hyde Park back in the early ’70s. Some residents think they’re big pests, but others are vocal supporters — I don’t know if they’re still around, but there was one group of pro-parakeet activists who called themselves the Parrot Troopers.


Erik 05.25.04 at 7:38 pm

The SF flock resides on Telegraph hill, very close to where I used to live. They have their own web-site: http://www.pelicanmedia.org/wildparrots.html


Scott Martens 05.25.04 at 8:13 pm

Yeah, I saw one the other day here behind my apartment in Woluwe. Shocked the hell out of me.

Psst, check your e-mail.


Sebastian Holsclaw 05.25.04 at 9:22 pm

There is a flock of parrots in San Diego. They can be quite noisy.


rea 05.25.04 at 9:48 pm

I’ve seen a flock in Houston (actually in Clear Lake), but I don’t know if Houston qualifies as a city in a temperate climate . . .


Giles 05.25.04 at 10:37 pm

If parrots can adapt to live in London, doesn’t that sugguest the most estimates of the effect of global warming are perhasp a tad over done?


clew 05.25.04 at 10:52 pm

If parrots couldn’t survive in London until recent decades, but can now, then the effects of global warming might include other new inhabitants, some not pest but pestilence.

Also, even Great Birnam Wood can’t move as fast as a parrot.

What I actually meant to say was,

And there is none so fit to keep a watch and keep
Unwearied eyes upon those horrible green birds.

Ophelia Benson 05.25.04 at 10:57 pm

There are a few in Seattle, I think. Think I heard one making parroty noises the other day. They’re quite adaptable, it seems.


John Quiggin 05.25.04 at 11:20 pm

Parrots and lorikeets are among the most common native birds in Australian cities. Here in Brisbane, the rainbow lorikeet is everywhere. Despite their vivid colouring, in a tree they are much more audible than visible.


DJW 05.25.04 at 11:44 pm

It’s weird that enough of them escape in all these cities to form colonies. Do they escape en masse from pet stores? Or are escaped parrots from around the city really good at finding each other for some reason? And why can’t the keepers of parrots learn to keep their windows closed?


Ophelia Benson 05.25.04 at 11:59 pm

I used to take care of lories and lorikeets at the zoo. Had a whole back room full of them. God damn are they loud!


Rana 05.26.04 at 12:08 am

I’ve heard that part of the problem with the birds and their big nests is related to their adaptation to colder climates. They build their nests on powerlines for warmth and often short them out in the process. For info on one such species of parrot, go here.

My theory on the escapees is that it’s a combination of escaped pets and smuggled birds getting loose. Of course, in Southern California, there used to be _indigenous_ parrots, so these new birds are filling a pre-existing niche in the habitat.

I agree that lorikeets are beautiful but loud. Also, don’t stand under them! They eat nothing but nectar!


John S 05.26.04 at 1:03 am

When I started living in Brussels in 1990 I never saw a parakeet – I saw my first in about ’95 and now they’re ubiquitous. I think there may be more than monk parakeets living here too because although some nest in large colonies on power lines (as mentioned above), others live in pairs in tree holes. What I am very curious about is that, like town pigeons, although proliferating, they seem to stick to the city. I’m not aware of them outside Brussels.


John S 05.26.04 at 1:09 am

oh, by the way,

“Brussels … a notoriously unexotic city”

What?! What about all the art nouveau and art deco buildings?


Ophelia Benson 05.26.04 at 1:42 am


Those lories and lorikeets I took care of were smuggled, as a matter of fact. They were a big shipment that had been seized by the Feds and handed over to the zoo for safekeeping.

And you’re right about standing underneath! Very gooey, they are.


Jennifer 05.26.04 at 4:33 am

Life will find a way.


Liberal Japonicus 05.26.04 at 8:03 am

Wait a minute, doesn’t Norway support a population of parrots? Beautiful plumage…


p-trick 05.26.04 at 8:05 am

’bout the parrots: I remember there was already a flock of them in the park of Tervuren (right outside Brussels) in the eighties. Seems to me it’s not such a recent fenomenon at all.

’bout your remark that property is relatively cheap in Brussels: well, I suppose it’s right when compared to other capitals in Europe, but I doubt whether people living in Brussels for some longer time (I’ve been around since I was born somewhere in the late seventies) would agree with it as the difference with smaller cities in Belgium – for as long as these are real cities – is still huge.


T 05.26.04 at 8:18 am

I hope there comes a day when I can hang out in Europe and there won’t be any fussing and fighting between us. Sounds nice.


eteba 05.26.04 at 10:02 am

I have not seen or heard of any parrots living
here in quebec city.We do however have ducks who stay year round.
At minus 40 degrees celsius in winter they survive.


Rory 05.26.04 at 2:25 pm

Those were parrot nests? Well, well. Saw them on a visit to Belgium at the end of winter and thought they were intriguing, the way they broke up a monotonous line of bare trees… not ugly at all.


synchronicity 05.26.04 at 4:56 pm

I can vouch for monk parakeets in Hyde Park (Chicago), early spring, 1992… boy, were they green and loud, as they sat and yawped in the bare trees behind my apartment.

Aren’t they originally from the Andes—or someplace that gets cold?


Charles Darwin 05.26.04 at 10:55 pm

It is likely that the parrots survive the winter because people are feeding them. Given a guaranteed food supply always helps in the survival stakes.


jamie 05.27.04 at 3:52 am

There are green parrots in New Orleans; they make their nests in the date palms in the medians, and elsewhere, too, I suppose. Of course, New Orleans could be considered more tropical than temperate, except in the winter. Humidity increases cold’s effect.


Ruth 05.27.04 at 3:58 pm

Hyde Park’s parakeets seem to feed themselves just fine — you can see them pecking away on miscellaneous vegetable matter in the parks along with the pigeons. Last time I checked, there were two major colonies: one in the park at the corner of 51st St. & South Hyde Park Boulevard, right by the lake, and another that spreads up and down the alley between Kimbark & Woodlawn, south of 54th Pl. The latter’s been under attack by the electric complany for quite a while, though, as one of their nests not only shorted out a transformer but started a fire about a decade ago.

There’s at least one functioning website devoted to the Brussels parakeets: http://hjem.get2net.dk/phk/parakeeteng.htm.

Given how easily they seem to spread, I’ve been tempted to try to transplant a colony to where I live now — something about recapturiing the sights and sounds of grad school days, I suppose. Thus far, though, I’ve kept my ecoterrorist urges in check…

Comments on this entry are closed.