Rome residents include not one but two species of tropical parakeet: the monk parakeet from South America, and the rose-ringed parakeet from Asia Minor. The birds abound in green areas, such as Il Parco della Caffarella and the Villas Pamphili (across the street from me), Borghese and Torlonia.
One version of the parakeets’ origin story has them escaping from private owners starting in the 1970s. Or more than likely being liberated by said owners and aviaries. Italians have a very bad habit of abandoning their pets when they become inconvenient, like when the owners are about to go on vacation and don’t want to fork over dog-sitting money. That’s why my dog park friends always come back from their holidays with newly adopted abandoned pups. It’s also why Italy is (officially) so dog-friendly You can your canine pretty much anywhere: on public transportation, into shops, hotels, and many bars and restaurants (restaurants and shops that sell food have the option to say no but that hardly ever happens). The thought is that if it is easy to take your pet with you everywhere, you will be less likely to dump it by the side of the road like a gigantic evil asshole. Miss Phryne Fisher, girl dog-tective, was abandoned — tied up outside of a pound with her little house next to her. Isn’t that sad? It’s been nearly a year and she still freaks out when I leave her alone.
Another theory dates the parakeet liberating to ancient Rome. Those ancient Romans did get around and makes sense that they might want to bring back a few ornithoid specimens from their exotic animal and slave acquisition campaigns in Africa and whatnot, only to offload them when they got too chatty (and parakeets are VERY chatty, more on that later). Also, there apparently was once a shop near the Caffarella Park that had a huge display case filled with parakeets. When the shop closed down, the owners let the birds out and they just skeedaddled over to the park. So there are probably a bunch of reasons we’ve got parakeets here is what I’m saying. By the way, it’s not just Italians that ‘forget’ to close the windows when their parakeets are loose in the house. Feral parakeets are everywhere. Fearing they were bad for agriculture, the Brits spent £259,000 eradicating 62 wild monk parakeets and removing 212 eggs from their nests over a period of five years. I’ll just let that sink it. Urban legend has it that the London parakeets were liberated from the set of the African Queen once shooting ended up in 1951.
Around here, we have the monk parakeet, which has a grey vest and head and blue wings. The grey head suggests a monk’s hood, from whence comes the name. They are also called quaker parakeets. I was interested as to why, being a Philly girl, but apparently the name has nothing to do with the founders of my city of origin. The internet seems to think that it comes from the fact that baby parakeets tremble and quake when they eat and the grownups tremble and quake while courting or when they are ill. Oh, nature. Monk parakeets build huge communal nests out of sticks. The nests, which may accommodate 200 or more birds, can reach the size of a small car. They are like apartment complexes with many apartments. Monk parakeets can attain the intelligence level of a 3-5 year old child. They live for 20 years and can learn dozens of words and phrases.
Here’s the craziest things that monk parakeets do. They sit in a tree chattering at about a million decibels — seriously, they are REALLY loud. For the record, I’ve not yet observed them speaking either words or phrases or acting like smart 3-year-olds. They stay in the tree about 5 minutes. Then the head bird gives a signal and they all swoop as one, only to be replaced immediately by another swooping bevy of monk birds. This goes on for a while. I especially notice it happening in the winter months and usually around dusk. Does anybody know why this happens? Are the nests in Rome smaller than cars so that the birds have to take turns hanging out in them?
I took a little video of the swooping situation but I have just spent the past two hours watching one million You Tube videos on how to embed videos on Word Press and I couldn’t get it to work. I’m so lame. Here’s a dog instead.