Built for the Birds
By Ken Dixon
The Connecticut Post
January 15, 2006
Group constructs alternative nesting after UI clears utility pole
A few days after United Illuminating Co. crews tore down their nests, a
group of tenacious monk parakeets was back at work Saturday, rebuilding
their thatched home atop a utility pole on Ocean Drive in West Haven. Down
the coast, on Second Avenue near the corner of Ocean Avenue in the Lordship
section of Stratford, more of the pesky parrots were also reconstructing a
stick nest high up on an electric pole. They're the survivors of a UI
extermination campaign that was suspended last month after animal rights
activists from throughout the state and across the nation first squawked,
then filed a lawsuit to stop the killing.
The electric utility relented after 179 birds were killed among a statewide
population estimated at more than 1,000. In all, 103 nests from West Haven
to Bridgeport were destroyed in UI's $125,000 eradication program that was
supported by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Now, both sides agree, is the time to test non-lethal alternatives to let
the parrots live without nesting in the utility poles to which they've
become attracted in the more than 30 years they have lived in Connecticut,
New York and New Jersey.
While a new complaint to permanently cease parrot killing is pending in
Superior Court in New Haven - filed last week by the Norwalk-based Friends
of Animals - bird lovers hope to develop alternative nesting sites that will
attract the parrots away from further confrontations with United
At about 10 a.m. Saturday, in a tall oak tree above this city's Ocean Drive,
a group of about a dozen of the soggy green parrots perched, squawking among
themselves. Below, one of the newly designed nests was in place in front of
the 451 Ocean Drive home of Julie Cook, a nursing student who was arrested
on breach of peace charges during an angry protest with UI and USDA crews.
The charges were later thrown out of court. A few doors to the west, a group
of bird lovers worked to erect another platform they hope the birds will be
more attractive than the poles.
Down a narrow walk-in easement onto their tiny, Sound-front property at 489
Ocean Drive, Peter Katz and his wife, Storm Somers Katz, were supervising
the construction of a platform.
"The parrots are one of the things that charmed us when we moved here,"
Peter Katz said, while a crew headed by Marc Johnson of Rockland, Mass.,
worked on digging a hole to sink a tall PVC pole topped by a new, empty nest
suitable for parrot families.
Sixty feet away, the high tide was pounding away on their rock breakwater,
while dozens of other avian visitors, including mocking birds, sparrows and
cardinals landed on the various birdfeeders scattered about the Katzs'
quirky, 50-by-70-foot yard.
Later in the afternoon in Fairfield, Johnson led a workshop sponsored by the
Friends of Animals, building more parrot nests, which look like a little
beach bungalows for the birds.
Johnson admitted the new nests are a hit-or-miss proposition, since no one
knows whether the monk parakeets, actually parrots, which are also called
Quaker parakeets, can be distracted from a relentless habit of rebuilding in
the same poles where UI tears down the nests.
Four southwestern Connecticut homeowners have put up new, alternative nests.
"If we can get people to build their own nests, with their own ideas, the
more different presentations we make to them, the better the chance we'll be
able to find out what works," Johnson said. Part of the utility's rationale
for capturing the birds and turning them over to USDA crews from killing in
carbon dioxide gas chambers, is their tenacity.
Albert Carbone, UI's spokesman, said Friday the company won't comment on the
latest lawsuit, but restated a corporate willingness to work toward a method
to keep the poles clear of bird nests without killing them. Part of the
Friends of Animals suit alleges that UI was negligent in maintaining its
poles on a regular basis. The lawsuit charges that UI let the stick nests
grow to huge proportions over many years, housing as many as 40 birds each
before the eradication program, first reported in the Connecticut Post,
began in mid-November.
"Hopefully, at the very least, this killing won't happen again," said
Derek V. Oatis, the Manchester lawyer representing the Friends of Animals.
"If UI can show us they'rer making a good-faith effort, we won't pursue
"We have to get UI to do a really aggressive maintenance program throughout
the spring and into the summer, particularly during the breeding season, so
the birds aren't allowed to build even a small nest," Johnson said. The next
thing Johnson things that UI crews could rig up powerful leaf blowers,
hoisted aloft in cherry pickers, to regularity visit the nests twice a week
or more. Sooner or later, he said, the birds should get the message. If not
this generation of adult birds, then maybe the next will learn that the path
of least resistance is in the trees or manmade platforms, not UI's power
Priscilla Feral, president of the FOA, said last week that early anecdotal
evidence is at least slightly encouraging.
"What I'm hearing is some parakeets are showing up at platforms," Feral
said. "They're congregating and eating, but the question is whether
they'll stay. If the new perches are literally across the street from UI's
tear downs, we're anticipating the survivors, the escapees, to maybe
Dr. Dwight G. Smith, a monk parakeet expert who is chairman of the Biology
Department at Southern Connecticut State University, said last week it may
be too early to tell whether the birds can be enticed to new quarters.
He has heard evidence that the surviving birds may be disoriented by the
removal of their nests.
"I'm investigating a couple of things that may become clearer next week,"
said Smith, who plans to submit some of his fieldwork for the FOA lawsuit
against United Illuminating.
"I know that the day after members of their colonies were captured and
killed, members of four or five nests were back, sitting there," Smith said.
"So UI's terror tactics - even their dreaded method - didn't work."
State Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the legislative
Environment Committee, said last week that he will review a 2003 state law
that lists monk parakeets among nuisance birds that can be eradicated.
Roy has also asked the state's congressional delegation to work toward
taking the monk parakeets off invasive species lists.
"I think the Friends of Animals make some good points in that UI could and
should do things differently to protect the birds," Roy said. "We have
suggested, and UI is studying, putting out more crews to observe the birds
and if they see three sticks together, to knock them down." Then, the
parrots may eventually learn to build their homes in trees or the new