This sweet and surprising movie tells the story of a flock of wild parrots living in San Francisco, and Mark Bittner, the homeless musician who spent several years closely involved with them. The image above comes from “The Parrot Pages” of his web site.
I don't know what to think about these parrots. It is disturbing that their flock has grown to about 200 from about 60 or so when Mark Bittner first got involved with them. I wonder how large the flock would become over time, and whether it would spread. There are actually quite a lot of parrots living wild in California, and there is a project, The California Parrot Project, devoted to studying them.
Lulled by the charm of the movie, I was unprepared for the sharp jab that Mr Bittner delivered to my moral gut, when he was asked whether a growing flock of non-native birds might be actually undesirable. I can’t recall the exact dialog but this FAQ on his web site gives you a taste of Mr Bittner’s evident distaste for conservationists like me:
Are they bad for the native birds?Gosh, I don’t hate or despise non-native species! I’m not a puritanical zealot, frothing with rage as I expurgate beauty and joy in the name of a bloodless creed!
This is a matter of some controversy. There are people who believe that because the parrots are non-native they are bad. End of discussion. I don't agree. First of all, there is plenty of food available in the city. Contrary to rumors spread by those who hate all non-native species, the parrots do not attack the native birds. They squabble among themselves, but they leave other birds alone. They seem completely uninterested in non-parrots. As far as stealing nests goes, it's interesting to note that the parrots nest in eucalyptus and Canary Island date palm - both non-native trees. (It's also interesting to note that most people who despise non-natives are of European descent.) The parrots make fine ambassadors for Nature, bright and noisy enough to grab the attention of jaded city dwellers, even turning some of us into birders. (my emphasis added)
Well, except in spring, when I fill bag after bag with rip-gut brome and Italian thistle, and sticky eupatorium, and French broom, and sour grass, and – oh so many more… and leave them to rot their little seeds out.
(Above, a weedy brome grass.)
But I don’t hate them. I feel sorry for them actually, innocent plants in the wrong place.
(Above, a weedy geranium.)
(Another common weed, whose name I forget.)
I do get satisfaction from clearing out invasive exotics, but so much killing makes me depressed. So I have no-kill days when I don’t pull out or cut into anything, but just enjoy it all, without judgment about what is out of place, just sink into the warm fecund mass of it all.
After all, humans (and not just those of European descent) are about the most invasive species around. In particular, our home here and the outbuildings and thinned growth around it deprive the local wildlife of a good acre or more of habitat. To say nothing of the roads we use to get here.
How much of a restorationist am I in fact? How would I feel if grizzly bears still roamed these forests? Aren’t I just benefiting from the horrible deeds of those who came before? To say nothing of what those others did to the native people - or maybe better to call them the first wave people, since they arrived here a mere 14,000 or so years ago and began managing the land.
Restoration is a comedy. Like Humpty Dumpty, we can never really put the ecology together again. But I have a certain faith even so in what we call the power of nature. I exulted along with the wonderfully informed and informative blogger of Curbstone Valley Farm when she saw native plants growing in areas she had cleared of weedy invasives (just can't find that post back at the moment).
There is always so much more going on around us than we can possibly know. An article on worms by Frederique Lavoipierre in the Jan/Feb/Mar 2009 issue of Pacific Horticulture talks about the benefit of earthworms in the garden, and also mentions that most earthworms are not native to the U.S. I knew this before, but I didn’t know one effect:
In Minnesota researchers are studying the ecological consequences of European earthworms in forests, where the understory is disappearing, due to the non-native earthworm’s voracious appetite for leaf litter. The earthworm-free forests of Minnesota have naturally loose soil, with a thick layer of duff, and the actions of earthworms in the forest environment actually compact the soil. Native plants, reliant on a substantial layer of leaf litter, are often adversely affected. . . . the implications for our signature redwood forests remain to be explored.Implications indeed. I wonder if parrots eat worms, d’you think?