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A Skirmish Over Wild Monk Parakeets

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Bird lovers say they're friendly and intelligent — but a Connecticut power utility calls them a nuisance, and it's rounding them up to kill them. Tandaleya Wilder of member station WSHU reports on the skirmish over the wild monk parakeet.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Connecticut, bird lovers are crying `fowl' over the fate of an exotic species. The group Friends of Animals considers the monk parakeet to be intelligent and friendly, but a local utility company considers them a nuisance and has been collecting them and having them killed. From member station WSHU, Tandaleya Wilder reports.

(Soundbite of beeping noise)

TANDALEYA WILDER reporting:

As a few West Haven, Connecticut, residents watch from their porches, a power company worker is in his truck's bucket, slowly hoisting himself to the top of a utility pole. He's carrying a large stick and a net he'll use to dismantle a twiggy, four-foot-wide multifamily nest firmly lodged on top of the pole.

Unidentified Man: Perfect!

(Soundbite of bird squawking)

WILDER: Awakened in the dark and trapped into the net are five Quaker parrots, also known as monk parakeets. These bright-green, non-native birds look out of place in chilly Connecticut, but judging from the size of their nest, this is the place they call home.

(Soundbite of birds squawking)

WILDER: The birds are handed over to a USDA representative, who puts them in a cage and slams it shut.

(Soundbite of cage shutting)

WILDER: In accordance with the American Veterinary Association, they will be gassed with carbon monoxide.

UI says the monk parakeets are to blame for four fires and nearly a dozen power outages over the last three years. West Haven resident Bob Langervan(ph) calls the nest removal a necessary evil.

Mr. BOB LANGERVAN (West Haven, Connecticut, Resident): There are people who are on heart machines and whatever that can't afford to lose their electricity and have a problem during this winter because of those nests.

WILDER: His wife Ruth is shaking her head in disbelief.

Mrs. RUTH LANGERVAN (West Haven, Connecticut, Resident): They're loud, but they don't need to be euthanized. There's other things that they can do with them. They're spending money foolishly.

WILDER: United Illuminating serves about 320,000 customers in southern Connecticut. Company officials say they have no choice but to remove the nests. The birds, attracted to the heat of transformers, have an unfortunate habit of building their nests on utility poles. UI spokesman Al Carbone.

Mr. AL CARBONE (Spokesman, United Illuminating): We've been a company for over 100 years, and birds have been on our various, you know, wires, you know, resting there. But when they build a nest next to high-voltage electric equipment, then we have a problem with public health and safety.

WILDER: Carbone says the company spent $125,000 to get rid of dozens of monk parakeet nests on utility poles in several towns. So far more than 200 birds in West Haven, Milford, Stratford and Bridgeport have been captured and euthanized.

Ms. PRISCILLA FERAL (President, Friends of Animals, Connecticut Chapter): A lot of the statements about the trouble that the birds cause are exaggerations.

WILDER: That's Priscilla Feral, president of the Connecticut chapter of Friends of Animals. Her group filed suit against UI to stop the project. She says the power company has treated the birds like vermin.

Ms. FERAL: This is blowing out of proportion a problem that happens every once in a while and could be solved without a mass slaughter of birds.

WILDER: Ornithologists believe smugglers brought monk parakeets to the US from South America in the late 1960s. They have since settled throughout the country. UI says it has tried everything from plastic owls to chemical repellants to discourage the monks from returning and nesting on the poles without success. But Connecticut State University biology Professor Dwight Smith wonders if UI has tried hard enough.

Professor DWIGHT SMITH (Connecticut State University): If you disturb the nests at the correct times, they will move elsewhere. It's not simply that they restrict other nesting activity to power lines because they don't.

WILDER: The Friends of Animals are claiming a partial victory in their campaign to save Connecticut's monk parakeets. United Illuminating recently announced it would stop capturing the birds for now and only remove the remaining nests. The company denies its decision was prompted by the efforts of the group. Currently, state law does not consider the monk parakeet a protected wildlife species. Overcoming that technicality may be a battle for willing lawmakers as well as bird lovers. For NPR News, I'm Tandaleya Wilder in Fairfield, Connecticut.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY will be back in a moment.

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