You hear them before you see them. Quak quaki quak-wi quarr — a kind of squawking that doesn't quite fit in in suburban New Jersey. You see their nests: Huge stick nests on the catenary structures over the train tracks.
And they're in the trees around the station. It's hard to see them — green birds in a leafy green tree are hard to spot — but, with a bit of patience, you can spy the little camouflaged birds.
Monk parakeets have made a home in Maplewood and South Orange.
“I first noticed them in the early spring,” said Mark Godsey, an NJ Transit rider who saw the nest while waiting for the 7:02 to arrive. “Sort of a treat every morning to see the new exotic neighbors while waiting for the train.”
Known also as wild Quaker Parrots, the birds are native to South America. They are about ten inches long with a bright green top and a light green bottom and can live 15 to 20 years. Legend has it that a crate of them broke open at JFK airport in the 1960s and the escaped birds established a colony in Brooklyn. Fast forward nearly 40 years and there are colonies in Brooklyn; Chicago; Milford, CT; and New Jersey. By 1995, they were recorded to be in 15 states.
The birds are a gregarious bunch and live in what amounts to an apartment building of a nest with each pair having its own entrance. The problem with this is that the nests can become huge. NJ Transit is concerned that they pose an electrical hazard and has taken down the nests in the past. (A call to NJ Transit has not been returned with regard to plans for the current nest.)
In its 2006-2007 session, the New Jersey legislature passed a bill to remove the monk parakeet from the state's "potentially dangerous species" list. It was once thought that the parakeets would pose a threat to agriculture but there has been no measurable damage to crops and the birds were delisted. Some protections have been afforded to the species.
So, the next time you take the train from Maplewood, take a look west down the tracks and say hi to your aviary neighbors, Myiopsitta monachus.