In the 1970s a group of Argentinian exiles escaped captivity at JFK airport. They settled down in Brooklyn, built homes from scratch and started families. I speak, of course, of the elusive Wild Quaker Parrots, also known as the Monk Parrot.
Once a month, Steve Baldwin leads a group of bird-watchers and curiosity-seekers on a Wild Quaker Parrot Safari near Brooklyn College. I joined him on his most recent expedition, and the parrots were a riot—the guide even more so.
Baldwin dressed the part of a safari guide, outfitting himself in hiking boots, functional, somber-colored clothes and a Mountain Hardwear cap. He had a guitar case slung over his shoulders for a post-safari jam sesh.
Our guide’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the parrots was boundless. At the start of the tour, Baldwin launched into a lively narrative, beginning with the parrots’ infamous escape from customs at JFK, and covering the parrots’ relationship with just about all other Brooklyn wildlife, including starlings, red-tailed hawks, squirrels, cats, and, of course, people.
While walking down a residential street, Baldwin stopped sharp in his tracks: “Aha!” he exclaimed, “I hear the call of a wild parrot!” Sure enough, we rounded the corner and there was the nest, a huge construction meant to house multiple families, like most New York residences.
The trees nearby were dotted with birds. They were fairly quiet at first, but the longer we stood there talking, the louder they chattered. Baldwin pointed out the mated pairs, which mate for life, and even a trio that included a baby. A squirrel came and went, scattering the bright green birds.
Baldwin told us, “I want these parrots to be famous, but not too famous.” There has been a problem with poachers in the recent past, people who thought that capturing and selling the parrots would be an easy way to make a quick buck. But would-be poachers beware: the neighbors called the cops on those dudes.
As we walked away from the lively tree, Baldwin called back, “Farewell, wild parrots of Brooklyn! May you continue to provide an exotic flavor to our borrough.”
You, too, Steve Baldwin.