Bird Lovers Defend Conn. Parakeets

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Julie Cook came home from work Wednesday night to find utility crews tearing down a parakeet nest from a pole and taking the birds away to be killed.

"I couldn't NOT do anything," said the 37-year-old West Haven woman. "So I started yelling at them and standing under the nest."

Cook was arrested on a breach-of-peace charge.

Bird lovers delighted by the chattering and the brilliant green-and-gray markings of Connecticut's wild parakeets are upset over an effort by United Illuminating Co. to remove 103 large nests from its utility poles and destroy the birds.

The utility, which serves about 320,000 customers in southern Connecticut, says the 200-pound nests of sticks and twigs cause fires and blackouts.

The monk parakeets, which are actually small parrots native to South America, started establishing colonies in the wild across the Northeast about 40 years ago after pet owners accidentally or deliberately released them. There are also colonies in Florida and elsewhere in the South and in the West.

In Connecticut, where the communal nests are home to as many as 40 parakeets each, United Illuminating captures the pigeon-size birds with a net and turns them over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which kills them with carbon dioxide.

That has outraged bird lovers.

"We've lived with these birds since we moved here eight years ago," Cook said. "We love them. They are exotic and beautiful. Me and my neighbors, we feed these birds."

Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, said: "This is a $125,000 senseless and immoral project. There is no crime that these lovely birds have committed that would warrant their senseless killing."

More than 130 of the pigeon-sized birds have been killed in the first weeks of the eradication project, which began last month. United Illuminating hopes to have all the nests down in January.

Four fires over the past four years and about a dozen outages per year are blamed on the nests, which can cause a short-circuit if built too close to a transformer, utility spokesman Al Carbone said.

"We've gotten calls from people on life support, worried about these nests causing their power to go out," he said. "They are on pins and needles."

The bird lovers are not convinced the parakeets are as bad as the utility says, and contend killing is not necessary — only the nests should be removed.

"These are very smart birds," said Laura Simon, urban wildlife director for the Humane Society of the United States. "If you harass them correctly at the right time of year, they will learn not to build on the poles and will move someplace else."

Florida Power & Light Co. has been struggling with monk parakeets for years. The utility has been working with the University of Florida to discourage nest-building on power equipment, and has tried using stuffed birds of prey, chemical repellents, noise, even odors, all without success. Sometimes the utility takes the nests down and kills the birds, spokeswoman Pat Davis said.

In New York City, the nests are a problem for Consolidated Edison in Brooklyn. The utility removes the nests but does not capture the birds, spokesman Chris Olert said.

"When we get to the nests the birds routinely take off," he said.