Greetings everyone! We are nearing the end of another month and in the past I would be in a bit of panic to make up any difference in my self-imposed monthly post quota. As you probably noticed, not so much an issue now with the retirement. Don’t want to jinx myself though as there is a new exploration currently in planning that might impact my productivity. As we are still in the early stages of week, wanted to get something to you that was fresh out of the tin. Our featured feathered friend … wait, just realized I can now go with … our fresh featured feathered friend – and yes, it was noticed it was “flying”, but that just seemed one ‘f’ too many or as they say “right out” ha. As I was saying, our F.F.F, just came out of the digital darkroom solution bath. Hit the jump to see a few … err… better make that a lot more shots from our birding trip up north. Ron sent me a text a week or so ago with his latest +1, the Monk Parakeet. He was alerted they were hanging out an electrical substation in Chicago. Technically Elmhurst IL, but as we downstaters say, north of 80 and east of 39 IS Chicago. At least until we can convince Michigan to annex it. Now the last thing I need is for Ron to put even more distance on me in the bird count. Floated the idea to Linda that we could kill two birds with one stone (just a saying, no birds were harmed in the making of this post… at least that you will know about). We needed to get up there to see my brother’s new place and since we were there.. maybe just kinda mosey on over to Elmhurst just to see what might be, I don’t know, hanging out over there. As much as she hates driving to Chicago, she was in. Let Ron know we were heading up and he graciously agreed to take us to the Monks – even went a day early to make sure they were still there! Turns out this group of Monk Parakeets had taken up residence at a rather large substation compared to what I was expecting. Looked as big as a city block surrounded by a rather foreboding looking fence. Anything under 30 feet had to be shot through the links. Luckily most of the activity was in the higher structural beams. These Monks are quite the builders! As you can see from the shots above, they bring the hammer and saw to the mission. Per Cornell’s site, the Monk is the only Parrot that builds community homes out of sticks. Their homes are multi-chambered complexes that can serve numerous birds (upwards of 20 and known to go over 200 in some sites). Pretty sure I heard Nine Inch Nails blasting out of the nest above. Everyone chips in to help build and maintain the nests. Stick by stick the condominiums are constructed – in this instance leveraging the steel beams of the substation as the core supports – smart choice as a Monk nest has been known to weigh over a ton. The beautiful but delicate birds living comfortably among the urban steel was a captivating contrast. While working up these images tried to make it a point to showcase the beams and other heavy metal elements as the backdrop – very industrial rock vibe to it “du hast”. For the entire time we were there, various birds were busy bringing supplies to the nest. From what I could witness there was usually another Monk at the nest that would take the incoming material and strategically place it in the designated nesting area. Even with all that work, there was plenty of cuddle time. These two specimens must have been a couple. Although they are a highly social co-habitated species, these birds do form monogamous pairs. Their courtships are quite interactive with a combinations of mutual preening and “beak-nicking” (yes, I made that up as I wasn’t sure how to describe beak PDA’s and it fit with my music undertone.) Ron noticed these two were displaying this affectionate behavior. First one would stretch its neck and rub on the other followed by the other one repeating the action – all while making quite a call racket. If they were balloons they probably could have stuck themselves to the sides of the beams. Eventually they would go their separate ways, but they would continue working their stuff while looking back to make sure their mate was watching their ass-ets. “Oh they do respect her but[t], they love to watch her strut” Turns out that the owner of this substation doesn’t exactly appreciate these birds disregarding their high fences and invading their structures. Ron mentioned they will destroy the nests from time to time. Ironically, the owner looks to be Commonwealth Edison – the same company I ended up reneging on a job offer 31 years ago – I could have been Chief Nest Destroyer (CND)! Undaunted, these Monks simply start the building process over. A hardy bunch with a can-do attitude. Put the needle down on some tasty NIN vinyl, crank up the amps and get to work – stick by stick by stick. “Will you stay down on your knees?” – hell no, these birds are hard “[They’d] rather die than give you control”. Wow, this is hard – for the record, there isn’t a lot of NIN lyrics I can quote without causing some serious cringing. Now, here is where my years of higher education would have come in handy for the CND position. The current position decided that simply knocking the material down to the ground was a sufficient deterrent. Basically they just left all the required building material right there on the ground and these Monks were more than happy to put it to use. One by one, the Parakeets would drop to the ground, take out a measuring tape, select a perfectly sized piece of lumber and fly up to the beams for placement. This repetitive behavior came in handy while trying to get the flight shots. Since we could see the nests, simply waited for one to drop to the ground, select a 2×4 and fly back. I’d start snapping away as soon as they got above the fence line. Laughed when I saw the shot below. “Holy crap, did you see how much current this place puts out!!! Let’s get those amps turned up to ELEVEN” Note, the tagging on the beam below says “Trent Reznor Rulz” in Parakeet graffiti script. Did notice very interesting behaviors while watching the construction process play out. These Monk Parakeets are a) very deliberate in their stick selection b) transport their materials by the end of the stick and c) when traveling beyond simply flying straight up, they often have a wingman. This shot gives a good view to their handling method. Finally got a shot with the escort close enough in the frame. Seemed like a waste of energy on multiple fronts. A single Parakeet could possibly handle more than one stick if they clamped them in the middle and certainly the escort could chip in and bring along one as well. Ron hypothesized that their blunted bills may not be built to carry horizontally. Quite possible as I was unable to find anything in the reference books that would refute that theory. The answer for the unloaded wingman came during one of the captured runs. A Starling was hanging out near their selected nesting site. As the Monk pair was approaching, the wingman noticed the intruder, put on the afterburners and took care of the situation allowing the payload to arrive safely. Once the danger was dealt with effectively, the wingman took up post and allowed the builder to position the lumber sans harassment from those pesky Shakespeare birds. The next shot made me laugh “whoooaaaa bird meet strong headwind” Even the lookout had a laugh at that one. “The coast is clear, bring it on in” Another shot of the tandem transport process. The protector was simply showing off in this run daring any bastard Starling to interfere. “Mustang, this is Maverick requesting flyby – that’s a negative ghostrider, the pattern is full.” Monk: “Hey Dove, hear the one about the Mallard that walked into the bar?” Dove: “Coo nope coo” Monk: “Bartender said next time duck” Dove: “Ni-coo-e coo-one greenie Dove: “Did you hear the one about a priest, rabbi and monk that walk into a bar…. Monk: “Yes, and that’s enough out of you … stupid Doves” Dove: “Turning a bit green there Mr. Thin Feathered” “Hey, what joker put up the plexiglass wall!” Well, at the end of a rather long post – had a great time birding with Ron and enjoying a rather unique bird. Those not aware these previous pets have now established themselves in various pockets in the US would be hard pressed to believe these gorgeous birds are available. Cornell did mention that Monks kept in captivity can mimic speech – can’t imagine the nasty things they pick up from blasting out those NIN songs all day hehehe. Take it easy everyone and hope you enjoyed Mr. 275 on the birding list – big thanks to Ron for making it happen and for Linda for agreeing to drive up to C H I C A G O.