Sunday, October 16, 2005

EDGEWATER - They talked about their "little green friends."

They made loud noises: "Ack! Ack! Ack!"

They marched up and down River Road, these parrot fans, spied on a nest they call "the love shack," stared at a W-shaped bird condo and hung out beneath a sign to see how feathered types of all kinds can get along with a non-native species.

The first Parrots of Edgewater tour was Sunday. That the crowd was sparse - three people plus a reporter - was of little matter to the organizers, a 20-year borough resident and a guy who keeps tabs on a similar flock in Brooklyn.

"A lot of bird people don't really approve of this," confided Steve Baldwin, the Brooklynite. "The parrots are considered to be an invasive species. As far as the state is concerned, they're a potentially dangerous species. That's just not so. These little green friends, these creatures, are a wonderful feature in town."

Truly, the birds - called Quaker parrots or monk parakeets - have some enemies. In Edgewater, Public Service Electric and Gas Co. crews routinely remove the birds' twig nests - some of them the size of filing cabinets — from utility poles. In the birds' native Argentina, government officials say they decimate corn crops.

No one is sure how the birds arrived in America, but it's generally believed that in 1967 they escaped from a shipping crate at John F. Kennedy International Airport and flew to Brooklyn; later, some settled in Edgewater. Soon after, New Jersey wildlife officials said the birds were nothing but bad news, and extended them no protection.

On Sunday, Alison Evans-Fragale, the tour organizer, said the parrots' reputation was undeserved. The tour, she said, was to show how the birds can thrive in places other than utility poles, how they feed and live alongside sparrows, starlings and pigeons - themselves non-native species - and how they inspire delight and wonder amid some of the densest real estate in New Jersey.

In January, Evans-Fragale founded EdgwaterParrots.com, which tells the birds' story, urges action to foster them and lists contact information for free tours.

"We have a bill in the Assembly that's to be voted on in November," she said. "It says that if and when the utilities do tear-downs, we can receive any of the babies. And they won't be able to tear them down during breeding."

In the meantime, Baldwin, Evans-Fragale and other parrot fans are experimenting with nesting platforms, made with plywood and chicken wire, to encourage the birds to build away from the poles. As it is, the parrots have colonized trees along River Road. They've turned a four-sided covered sign at the entrance to a high-rise into a model of species relations, sharing living space with pigeons and smaller birds.

"This is the Empire State Building of nests," Baldwin said near "the W tree," the pigeon fanciers' name for a three-trunked monstrosity a block west of River Road.
"Look!" he called as a dozen pigeons flew to the tree. "The flyover!"
"Good timing!" called Deborah Alperin, who had ridden the bus from Manhattan just for the tour.

Evans-Fragale explained the birds' calls.
"This kind of greeting is 'Hey, hi! I'm here!'Ÿ" she said. "That 'Ack! Ack! Ack!' is 'C'mon, there's food here!'Ÿ" A pause, and then she and Baldwin cried: "Ack! Ack! Ack!"
Ten minutes at "the W tree" and it was time to move along. The talk turned to the parrots' diet, and Baldwin ticked off a list: grain, nuts, dandelion shoots and leaves, and baked goods of all kinds.
"They like bagels," he said. "These are urban birds."

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