While Chicago isn’t the only American city with wild parrots, or even wild Quaker parrots, we may be the only city who has fought so long and so hard for them. The now-extinct Carolina Parakeet, driven out of existence by hunting and habitat loss, cannot ever truly be replaced, but these birds are trying to do it. They have been nesting in Hyde Park and elsewhere in the Chicago area since at least the 1970’s.
It’s true not everybody loves them, but then again, there are a lot of misconceptions–that their nests start fires (only one record exists of that happening here), that they destroy crops (nobody has caught them at it yet), or that they only eat bird seed and therefore deprive native species of access to feeders (anyone who watches them will see them eat a variety of foods). On the other hand, they have quite a fan club.
Famously, former Mayor Harold Washington called them good luck. There are many legends about his affection for and protection of these parrots, but few can be verified beyond a few positive comments and the fact that they did live near his home. Shortly after the end of his administration, Chicagoans went to court to protect the birds and launched citizen campaigns to prevent their removal or destruction. Later, the Greater Chicago Caged Bird Club started a project to take in and care for any baby birds that utilities companies found in nests they destroyed on power lines, or that were otherwise found in need of help. Businesses and citizens in the community of Hyde Park rushed to aid the birds when a storm toppled a tree containing one of their large nests. Most people I’ve met who live there, or did in the past, have stories to tell about these little green parrots.
I myself have visited parks and fields in Hyde Park to watch the birds feed, play, and do battle with crows and pigeons. I’ve also spotted a few at a miniature golf course in Des Plaines. They are fascinating little creatures who apparently love eating dandelions. If you’re not in the area and want to have a look at these colorful characters, check out Chicago Man on Flickr. Heck, check him out anyways–he has tons of great urban landscapes, too.