Eradication of Parakeets Draws Protests

Eradication of Parakeets Draws Protests
By AVI SALZMAN, published in The New York Times on November 27, 2005 Sunday Late Edition – Final

UNITED ILLUMINATING, tired of pulling monk parakeet nests off utility poles only to see the birds return and rebuild, began capturing the parakeets about two weeks ago and handing them over to scientists from the federal government to kill.

For the first few days, the euthanization went quietly. And then an article in The Connecticut Post alerted local animal rights activists to the procedure.

Since then, it has been far from quiet.

Animal rights activists and bird lovers from Connecticut and other states have been calling the electric utility and the United States Department of Agriculture asking them to stop killing the birds, and legislators are starting to weigh in.

As of early last week, the plan to rid the poles of parakeets was still in place, though rainy weather had stalled the process. Others wanted it stopped for good.

“These birds are a pleasure to view, they harm no one, and if nests need to be moved they can do it without eradicating an entire species,” said Priscilla Feral, the president of Friends of Animals, an animal-rights group based in Darien.

Al Carbone, a spokesman for the United Illuminating Company, said it had attempted numerous methods to remove the birds without killing them, but the parakeets just kept coming back. The nests, he said, are a safety hazard. They imperil service for customers and safety for neighborhoods where the birds have built nests in utility poles.

The nests, Mr. Carbone said, range from about 10 pounds up to 200 pounds and can contain as many as 40 to 50 birds. The twigs in the nests sometimes push down on transformers and cause explosions, he said. The company has attributed four fires over the last two years to the nests and also blames the parakeets for 8 to 12 power interruptions every year. “Our chief concern is public health and safety,” Mr. Carbone said.

Monk parakeets, which are native to South America, are considered an invasive species and do not enjoy the same protections as other birds in the state. There are many theories on how they got here, from escaped pets to a broken shipment of birds at an airport. State law prohibits anyone from killing, capturing or buying wild birds other than game birds, but the law specifically exempts monk parakeets from those protections if the birds are “concentrated in such numbers to constitute a public health or public safety hazard.”

Mr. Carbone said other methods, including using plastic owls and chemical repellents to drive the birds away, haven’t worked. After consulting with other utility companies, including Florida Power and Light, and both the United States Department of Agriculture and the State Department of Environmental Protection, the company decided to kill the birds.

Over all, the company plans to remove 103 nests in four municipalities: West Haven, Milford, Stratford and Bridgeport. The process is expected to continue for about another month.Dennis Schain, a D.E.P. spokesman, said the department had not told United Illuminating to kill the birds. “We didn’t approve or disapprove,” Mr. Schain said.

The U.S.D.A. made sure the company had attempted non-lethal solutions, and then agreed to use euthanasia, said Corey Slavitt, a spokeswoman for the agency. The birds are killed with carbon dioxide.

Killing the birds simply does not make sense, opponents of the procedure said. “This is occasionally a problem and doesn’t require a draconian measure,” Ms. Feral said. Protestors have begun to mobilize. A few dozen people staged a protest at the foot of utility poles in West Haven where the company was removing birds on Nov. 17 and some said they got into an argument with the workers. But last Monday, only about 10 to 15 protestors gathered in front of United Illuminating’s offices in New Haven holding signs and circulating a petition asking the state to hold a referendum on what to do with the birds.

Karen Hujdic of Shelton, who attended Monday’s protest, said that she thought the birds were “just beautiful” and that her family likes to walk along the beach in Stratford and watch them. She said she was upset by the killing of the birds. “It just made me sick when I read it in the paper,” she said.

The protestors have also attempted to reach Nathaniel D. Woodson, the chairman and chief executive of UIL Holdings Corporation, the parent of United Illuminating, to ask him to call off the euthanization. Mr. Carbone said that Mr. Woodson fully supported the project and would not be available for comment.

Representative Thomas Drew, a Democrat from Fairfield, said Tuesday that he was trying to set up a meeting with the federal Department of Agriculture and the state D.E.P. to impose a moratorium on the euthanization. He called the practice “kind of barbaric,” but noted that he did not know all the facts.

“If the damage is so severe and there is no realistic alternative that’s one thing,” he said. “But that case hasn’t been demonstrated to the public yet.”

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