Parakeet “solution” UI’s call

Parakeet “solution” UI’s call
By Ken Dixon, published in The Connecticut Post on November 28, 2005

Yum. There’s nothing like a little leftover Thanksgiving monk parakeet with a touch of mayonnaise and a dollop of cranberry sauce. Oops, wrong bird.

And that, in an eggshell, sums up the public-policy issues that have flown the nest and remain on the wing in southwestern Connecticut as United Illuminating Co.’s parrot-eradication program begins its third week.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which UI is using to kill the birds its crews capture under cover of darkness, says the death count of monk parakeets “humanely euthanized under methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association” is about 120. That might be 10 percent of the coastline population of these tough, hilarious birds, some of which, unfortunately for all of us, nested in UI utility poles while most made their nests in big fir trees and oaks.

The squawking of the bright-green parrots outside the bedroom window on a summer’s morning may be as close as I ever come to a tropical vacation. But I’ve never lived with a stick nest the size of a Volkswagen around a nearby transformer, and haven’t had a power outage because of a bird- related fire.

The utility, whose New Haven headquarters is now the focus of animal-rights activists including the Darien-based Friends of Animals Inc. and other monk parakeet support groups in New York and Massachusetts, started the extermination program with no public notice.

Al Carbone, the utility’s public relations spokesman, in an uncomfortable quote, calls the UI/USDA death squads a “solution,” into which the utility was forced. Carbone said the crews started in West Haven and will focus on one town at a time as UI works to pull down 103 nests along the coast to Fairfield. But there’s anecdotal evidence that on days when protesters were looking for them, UI trucks drove down to the Lordship in Stratford to take care of business.

“It’s like a sneaky utility,” said Virginia Norko of Lordship. “If I knew they were coming, I’d go out there and throw rocks at the nests.” She recalled the recent night when four vehicles and a Stratford police patrol car went after birds on Third Avenue. “It’s the taxpayers paying for this and I don’t want to,” Norko said in a phone interview last week. It’s also the UI ratepayers’ money. Some activists are plotting a possible boycott of holiday lights to subtract from UI’s bottom line.

Enter Rep. Dick Roy, D-Milford, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Environment Committee, who’ll meet with Department of Environmental Protection officials and UI personnel this week. There, people may ask whether the solution to anything is death.

The compromise would be for UI to wake up and smell the PR, then call a news conference to announce an “initiative” to “delay” the program until spring. Then, they could change tactics, pull the nests down and let the birds fly elsewhere. Then, UI, banking their goodwill, could invest a little ratepayers’ money in keeping their utility poles clear of nests.

Once this parrot business gets settled, maybe we can tackle the 71,000 Connecticut children and 284,000 adults, who are without health insurance.

That would be a bird of a different color.

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