“There are so many different stories … the only place I know for sure that they came from is an egg,” said Nassau County SPCA spokesman Gary Rogers, about the wild green monk parakeets that have made their home over the past decades on Long Island, as well as in Queens and Brooklyn.
For years, South Shore residents on a number of parakeet-themed websites have posted photos and accounts of their own sightings, often adding that the people they tell think they’re crazy.
The parakeets give “a whole new meaning to the word 'anomaly,” Alan Lapidus, of Bellmore, wrote online after this first sighting on Merrick Road in 2014. They birds are “a real tropical treat up here in snow country."
No doubt, they are here –– and they are here to stay, constructing massive nests in park light towers and oak trees, each one home to dozens, perhaps hundreds of the parakeets. Flocks of the birds can be seen swirling above Merrick Road Park in Merrick and Newbridge Road Park in Bellmore.
Opinions differ on where and when exactly the South American “colonial nesters” made their way to the area, with some claiming an incident involving a busted crate bound for New York pet stores at JFK Airport in the 1960s or ’70s was the start of their stateside colonization.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology dates the green monk parakeet colonies in the U.S. to the 1960s as well.
Kathleen Lynch, a Hofstra University assistant professor of biology, said that she spotted colonies of the birds while living in Austin, Texas, but did not expect to see them again after moving to Long Island. “I was shocked when I moved to Long Island because it gets really cold here, but apparently they're able to survive,” she said.
Lynch said that, without endorsing the specific theory, the JFK Airport origin story of the parrots is likely close to the reality of how they came to colonize the area. “I don't think they're migratory birds,” she said. “They have to be a pet-trade thing. They're definitely not native birds.”
Joe Baker, president of the South Merrick Community Civic Association, and a longtime observer of the birds in Merrick Road Park, recalled a security guard at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn telling him that the cemetery’s resident parrot collective sprang from a decades-old JFK incident.
“I think that’s probably what happened here too,” he said.
According to Rogers, the parakeets build large, communal nests that function almost like apartment houses, and where you find one, “you can rest assured there’s going to be more.”
Lynch agreed that the birds tend to flock together, especially in the winter, which might be one reason they’re able to survive the cold temperatures.
“It's pretty amazing, really. These parrots, they're able to get used to the weather. It's very interesting, and it's my hope that the town never dismantles the nests,” Baker said, referring to the nests atop the light towers at Merrick Road Park. “They really have no reason to — the parrots aren’t hurting anyone.”
“People should leave them alone and not bother them,” Rogers agreed. “They live here now. They’re residents.”