Recent deal protecting parakeets expired at end of 2005

By Ken Dixon, published in The Connecticut Post on January 13, 2006

Animal-rights activists on Thursday asked the state Superior Court to permanently protect southwestern Connecticut’s colorful monk parakeets from the United Illuminating Co., the Connecticut Post has learned.

The lawsuit, which was being delivered to UI attorneys and the court on Thursday, is aimed at saving the parakeets from further eradication, following the recent killing of 179 birds by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at UI’s request.

Utility officials Thursday night said they would not comment on pending litigation. But they restated a previous commitment to seeking an alternative to keep electric poles clear of nests, without killing the gregarious birds that have made the coastline their home since the early 1970s.

Priscilla Feral, president of the Darien-based Friends of Animals, said Thursday that the request is a follow-up to a showdown in New Haven Superior Court last month, when UI agreed to suspend the program of capturing and euthanizing the birds.

“What UI committed to the last time in court was a moratorium that would only last until the end of 2005. We seek a permanent injunction and ask for judgment that requires UI to conduct maintenance on the poles and prevent the nesting,” Feral said in an interview. The suit claims the parrots, which live in colonies of up to 40 birds in thatched nests in trees and utility poles, are now an important part of the Connecticut ecosystem.

Friends of Animals claims UI has neglected routine maintenance on the poles and should be forced to use new ways to clear them off without capturing and killing them.

In November and December, UI crews went to 103 nests in West Haven, Milford, Stratford and Bridgeport and removed birds, handing them to USDA crews that asphyxiated the birds using carbon-dioxide gas. It was a $125,000 program that began the week of Nov. 14.

The suit claims that numerous other birds, including song sparrows, house finches and great horned owls, also use the parrot nests for shelter.

“The presence of the Monk Parakeet, a strict herbivore, is a benign effect on other local species and may actually increase numbers and variety of wildlife in an otherwise ecologically barren urban environment,” the suit says.

The utility’s eradication effort was first reported by the Post, setting off a storm of protest within the region and nation, particularly among monk parakeet aficionados in Brooklyn, N.Y., and New Jersey, where utility companies have developed non-lethal ways to clear their poles.

Al Carbone, spokesman for UI, said Thursday that the destruction of the 103 nests was completed last week.

Carbone would not comment directly on the lawsuit, which he had not seen, but said company policy prevented him from talking about pending litigation. He said that during the cleanup of the nests, workers found evidence that the birds had gnawed on power lines.

“They found that a lot of the insulation on the wires was chewed up, which was a fire hazard and a threat to public health and safety,” Carbone said, adding that workers taped up the gaps in the insulation.

He said the company didn’t have an agenda against the bird that requires killing them.

“We’re willing to monitor the existing locations and work with other utilities and state and federal officials to develop legitimate, practical, non-lethal control methods,” Carbone said.