Robert Morris / Uptown Messenger
NEW ORLEANS - When officials announced last month that a major new drainage project on Jefferson Avenue would begin in April, many Uptown residents worried about the effects on traffic, parking, rainwater drainage during the actual construction, and the removal of trees in the neutral ground.
But some residents who live closest to the avenue had a slightly more exotic concern: What would become of the little green monk parakeets that have colonized the palms along Jefferson Avenue?
The tree clearing began April 1 in preparation for the $46 million installation of a new box canal under the Jefferson Avenue neutral ground between Constance and Dryades streets over the next three years. The project will ultimately involve the temporary removal of the neutral ground to allow contractors to get under the street, and the space will also be used to keep at least one lane of northbound traffic on the street while they are working, officials said in February.
The trees along Jefferson Avenue include a mix of camellias, crepe myrtles and tall palms, and between 20 and 40 years ago they were colonized by monk parakeets, a bird native to Argentina that likely escaped or were released in the area. Surveys between 2003 and 2009 showed that the parakeets show an almost equal preference for building their large nests in one of two places, palm trees or artificial towers, according to a 2012 article in the Journal of Louisiana Ornithology by Xavier chemistry professor emeritus John Sevenair.
Individual colonies of the parakeets can be found around New Orleans, Sevenair said, but Jefferson Avenue is unusual in that it provides so many palms for them in a concentrated area.
“You’ll find groups of them where there are groups of potential nest sites, including rows of palms that don’t get trimmed (as on Jefferson — there’s too much trimming on Carrollton) and stadiums with light poles that aren’t cleaned off too frequently,” Sevenair wrote Tuesday in an email interview with Uptown Messenger.
One of the doomed palms stood until last week in front of the home of Alicia Andry. As soon as it came down, Andry said her daughter mentioned that she’d miss their noisy chirps outside her bedroom window.
“I guess they’ll find another place,” Andry said. “Hopefully they’re in another tree.”
With the palms gone, the parakeets do have one nearby point of refuge: the tall football field lights at the Isidore Newman School. Phillip Wallace, the assistant principal of Newman’s middle school and locally-known birder, was quickly able to point out their large colonies just outside his office. It is too early to determine whether birds from the palms that were removed had joined the Newman population, Wallace said, and Sevenair suggested that those already in the lights will likely keep the dispersed ones out.