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Monk parakeet safari

Brooklynites are used to seeing pigeons and the occasional seagull flying through their skies. It may be surprising to hear that the borough also has a significant parrot population.

Specifically wild Quaker Parrots, or Monk parakeets, the birds can be found in the natural habitat on phone wires in Manhattan Beach, Bergen Beach and Midwood or in trees in Bay Ridge's Leif Erickson Park.

On September 13, Steve Baldwin, a Bay Ridge resident who in his spare time updates Brooklyn parrot news, clips and photos on the Web site BrooklynParrots.com, will lead his Wild Brooklyn Parrot Safari, a tour through two of the bird's main locations: Brooklyn College and Green-Wood Cemetery.

How the birds got here in the first place is something of interest to bird enthusiasts. Native to South America, particularly Argentina, theories on their escape to Brooklyn include a pet store on Flatbush Avenue that went out of business and released them, a truck that overturned on a highway, an Argentinean tramp steamer that foundered in New York Harbor, or that the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens abandoned these birds to the skies after closing its aviary.

The theory Baldwin puts his weight behind is the great escape of 1967, which surmises that a shipment of birds, devastating to Argentinean forests but desired as pets in the United States, were destined for sale at New York area pet shops but accidentally released at Kennedy Airport in the late 1960's. Over the years, they ultimately found their way to Brooklyn College and other locations.

“I couldn't image a better place for them,” says Baldwin, who conservatively estimates that there must be about 250 birds in Brooklyn, from Red Hook to Sheepshead Bay. “They're really innovative. You will find some structure you would never think would support a parrot and they will build something.”

While the year-round tours, a word-of-mouth operation, typically draw from the local people population, Baldwin has had bird-lovers fly all the way down from Montreal just to see the parrots, as well as come in from Pennsylvania and Baltimore.

“Some people will spend $3,000 to $4,000 to Peru to watch them, if you look at it that way,” says Baldwin, a bird lover himself who, though a former bird owner, prefers to see them free in the wild. “Though most are New Yorkers – bird people, or those into strange, oddball things in the city.”

On the first leg of the parrot “safari,” which begins at Brooklyn College, you'll inspect what Baldwin calls the Brooklyn Parrots' “Ellis Island” – large nests around the soccer field that make up the first major parrot colony in the borough.

From there, after about two hours of parrot gazing, you'll head to the second leg of the tour – Green-Wood Cemetery. When Baldwin started doing his tours in spring 2005, the cemetery wasn't a stop but just a suggestion as to where to see more parrots in the borough.

So after strolling the campus, you can hop on the Q train, jump in your car, or go home if you've had your fill, and continue the tour at the cemetery, where, in addition to seeing parrots, you will also learn from Baldwin a little bit of trivia on the cemetery and get a view of New York Harbor, including the Statue of Liberty, from the highest point in Brooklyn at the statue of Minerva.

“A lot of people have never seen that before,” says Baldwin, “but the main focus of it is the parrots. But there are some other things to see along the way.” You may, for instance, even see a hawk or two as you scour the skies.

Just like bulls for some reason fume over the color red, Baldwin advises against wearing orange during the tour or you might drive the parrots away. Also recommended is photo ID, required by Brooklyn College security, as well as binoculars, cameras, and some unshelled peanuts or raw sunflower seeds for the birds. And while they won't land on your shoulder, you can expect to get within 10, 15 feet of the parrots.

For those looking for a cheap thrill or something fun for the whole family that won't cost an arm and a leg, the tour is also free.

“I figured, the parrots aren't making money off of these tours, and neither should anybody,” says Baldwin. “I do encourage people to bring bird seed and treats. [The birds] usually appreciate that.”

The September 13 tour will meet at Brooklyn College's Hillel Gate, at the intersection of Hillel Place and Campus Road. The first section is from noon to 1:45 p.m. The second section at Green-Wood Cemetery (500 25th Street) runs from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. You can attend either section, or both, depending on how many wild parrots you'd like to see. The rain date is September 14.

Those interested in attending the tour should email Baldwin at steve@brooklynparrots.com or call 646-361-2879.

For more information, go to www.BrooklynParrots.com.

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