by KEN DIXON, as published in the Connecticut Post

Animal rights activists began a life-or-death campaign Thursday to persuade the United Illuminating Co. to call off its monk-parakeet-eradication efforts.

“The great majority of people think these birds are pretty and shouldn’t be exterminated,” said Priscilla Feral, president of the nonprofit Friends of Animals. “We sent out an alert, and we’re channeling that vocal opposition to the chairman of the [UI] board, Nathaniel Woodson.” Feral said that thousands of e-mails were sent to members, targeting Woodson, CEO of UI’s parent company.

She said the phones at her group’s Norwalk headquarters were ringing steadily in reaction to Thursday’s article in the Connecticut Post that first detailed the eradication program.

The UI, however, will continue tearing down more than 100 nests on utility poles from West Haven to Fairfield and turning over captured monk parakeets to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for research and euthanasia, spokesmen said. The utility company claims the huge stick nests present a hazard, causing fires and power outages.

USDA workers euthanize the bright-green tropical birds in carbon dioxide chambers, said Corey Slavitt, a USDA spokeswoman in Washington. The method is approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, she said, adding the program is aimed at balancing the needs of humans and animals.

Meanwhile, Dwight Smith, chairman of the Biology Department at Southern Connecticut State University, whose graduate students have studied the parakeets, called for a moratorium on the killings.

Smith said he’s “irritated and angry.”

He said that the state Department of Environmental Protection and UI have consistently avoided questions about monk parakeets, as whole colonies of the birds mysteriously vanished in recent years.

“If they need to remove them from the poles, why kill them?” Smith said. “A study needs to be done. At least, why don’t we have a round-table discussion?”

Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for the Fairfield-based Connecticut Audubon Society, said that even though the state has classified the parakeets as an “invasive species,” they apparently do not compete with native birds for habitat or food.

“UI’s position is that any bird that builds a nest in their poles deserves to die,” Feral said, calling for a regional mobilization of animal-rights activists. Feral called UI’s campaign “hysterical.”

Al Carbone, spokesman for UI, said the company was fielding “a lot” of news media inquiries Thursday.

He said he spoke with Feral, who “expressed her disappointment with what’s going on.” But he said UI will continue the nighttime removal and capture plan. As of Wednesday, 47 of the birds had been killed. Slavitt did not have an updated number.

Steve Baldwin, a Manhattan Internet marketer who runs a Web page about monk parakeets in Brooklyn, said Consolidated Edison, the utility there, submitted to public pressure to keep the birds alive, even if the nests on utility poles are demolished.

“I’m absolutely outraged,” he said of the UI eradication program. “It looks like Connecticut is wiping them out and I’m very, very angry about this.”

Baldwin said Con Ed monitors about 130 nests in Brooklyn, most of them centered around Brooklyn College.

PSE&G, the giant New Jersey utility, also has favored the nonviolent way of removing monk parakeets when possible. Rather than nighttime confrontation with a colony in the autumn, PSE&G uses a springtime, daylight tactic, destroying the nests but letting the animals fly away and establish new nests for the breeding season.

Regular maintenance of poles would help keep the birds away and in the large fir trees and deciduous hardwoods where most of the estimated 1,000 Connecticut monk parakeets live.

Bull, of the Connecticut Audubon Society, said that while Audubon supports this eradication effort, the birds have carved out an ecological niche for themselves since they arrived around 1971.

“They’re great birds,” he said. He added that winter weather restricts them to the coast, where they feed on rose hips, beach plums and bayberry.

“In South America they’re considered an agricultural pest,” Bull said. “I have not noticed any situation, beyond a peripheral level, where monk parakeets have been competing with native birds.”

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