Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Migration of the Wild Parrots

Each year around the beginning of school several separate flocks of wild parrots fly into my neighborhood, perch on the tall ancient Tulip trees which ring the adjacent cul-de-sac and make a musical racket for a week. Then, as suddenly as they arrive, they are gone, wending their way south to the rainforests of South America where they will vacation for the winter.

This annual event is something of an appreciated local mystery. As September rolled around, bringing with it the faintest wisps of autumn air, I and my (then) young kids would walk to the school bus stop. They were scrubbed and shiny in their new sneakers with bright monagrammed L.L. Bean backpacks hanging heavy on their tiny frames while I arrived tousled and flanneled with a second coffee in my hand.

The parrots had already come and we could hear them before turning the corner. “Squawk! Shriek! Chatter! Coo,” were sung in canon. There must have been fifty of them. As do most birds, these colorful carolers especially liked singing in the early morning. “They’re baaaack,” my first-grader son said, smiling, showing the gap where just the previous night a baby tooth had come out traveling along with the summer’s last corn-on-the-cob. His kindergarten brother skipped happily while their baby sister, strapped securely to the carrier on my back drummed my shoulders enthusiastically. We looked up at the trees as we rounded the bend and saw them high up, their wildly bright colors in delightfully sharp contrast to the solid swath of green. Greeting the other kids and moms who were doing some nice chattering of their own, we caught up, compared summers, remarked on how all the kids had gotten so tall and turned to listen to the concert in the trees.

Fast forward nineteen years. Those kids are grown and have made their own migrations. A new flock takes their place each September. That baby on my back is in her third year of college on the west coast. And still the parrots come. They are an even larger group now, it seems. The conventional speculation has always been that this musical migration began as a couple of escaped pets who went feral and multiplied rapidly. Since parrots can have an equal life span to humans, it is likely that some of the shriekers heard this year are the very same birds of years past.

During the recent hurricane, one of those towering Tulip trees came crashing down. There, where the line of green had been for so long unbroken, is now a gap, like the smile of a first-grader missing a tooth. Growing up here on Long Island I have weathered hurricanes before, but I cannot remember a more devastating one than Sandy. How scary it was to hunker down as light flickered and died, hearing the crack and crash of trees in the distance, winds howling, sirens screaming. We woke to havoc and wreckage all around us. That next morning, I took a walk in the eerie morning light to survey the local damage. The downed Tulip lay across the bus stop street like the giant in Jack-and-the-Beanstalk. In the lower trees I could hear the peeps of cardinals and the coos of the mourning doves.

I walked to what had been the very top of the Tulip. “This is where the parrots roosted,” I thought, imagining what it might be like to perch so high up in the sky. I worried that, come next September their ever-growing clan would find overcrowded conditions on the tops of the remaining trees. Or, even more upsetting, might they find better accommodations elsewhere, leaving us entirely? We shall see. For now we clean up, repair and rebuild, move ahead and await their return.

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