Most Hyde Park
residents aren't that sophisticated when it comes to this sort of high
environmental seriosity. (Anderson is an exception, but with his ideas about
the monks filling the niche we emptied of Carolina parakeets, he is something
of a rare bird himself.) The people who live in the area seem to be glad the
parrots are there and don't bad-mouth them because they are recent and
irregular immigrants. The apparently unanimous feeling is that the birds are
pretty to look at, interesting to talk about and a desirable neighborhood
resource that should be protected.
At least twice
during the last three years, outsiders have tried to molest the parrot nest.
Once a fellow threw a rope over a lower limb on the ash tree and started to
climb toward the nest. On a second occasion an intruder hung around the foot of
the tree with a long-handled net, trying to catch the birds. The assumption is
that these raiders were motivated by greed, that they thought they could sell
the birds for big money. This isn't the case, since a monk retails for only $25
or so in pet shops. Whatever their intentions, these strangers were frustrated
by local residents who saw what they were up to and drove them away.
The entrance to
the Hampton House apartments is directly across 53rd Street, only about 100
feet from the parrots' nest. In consequence, Ronald Faulkner, the front-desk
man, is, day in and day out, closer to the birds than anyone else in the
neighborhood. He says that being able to see so much of the parrots is a fringe
benefit of the job, and "I tell you this: Nobody better mess around with
them parrots. I'm watching, and we have a lot of senior citizens around here.
They care a lot about the parrots, and the pigeons and the squirrels in the
park, too. They may be old, but they'll make some big trouble in a hurry for
anyone who tries to do anything bad to those animals."
Because of recent
political developments in Chicago, the informal vigilante force that keeps a
protective eye on the parrots has been heavily and officially reinforced. Now
the nest area is in effect a maximum-security sanctuary. This is because a
resident of Hampton House is Harold Washington, who last year, in a campaign of
notable bitterness, even for Chicago, was elected mayor of the city. Since then
at least two armed and uniformed police officers have been on duty at Hampton
House, either posted at the door or in a squad car, which is usually in the
park, directly under the nest tree. The officers are primarily responsible for
the welfare of the mayor, but anyone with evil designs on the parrots would now
literally have to shove the cops aside to get at the birds. Their own feelings
aside, the police wouldn't be likely to permit this, because His Honor has made
it clear that he thinks extremely well of the birds; that catching a glimpse of
them in the morning as he leaves Hampton House has brightened up some otherwise
hard days, of which he has recently had more than his share. Indeed, he gives a
ringing, pro-parrot tribute: "We are all pleased and grateful that these
fine parrots have chosen to settle in the great city of Chicago. I think of
them as an omen signifying better times ahead for the entire community. For me
personally, they have been a good-luck talisman. On the South Side we all
admire them for the way they face and stand up to The Hawk."
is the only plausible explanation of why the mayor and parrots of Chicago are
next-door neighbors. However, this is a neighborhood where people are not
afraid to play around with deeper realities. For example, a young man well
under the voting age, in fact a fourth-grade student, while cutting across the
park one afternoon, stops to talk parrots and, in a sense, politics. His name
is Jerome. Jerome says, "Those green birds was brought here by the mayor.
The mayor lives in that big building right by the birds. They are his good luck
and they are lucky for everybody." Brian Boyer, a press aide to Mayor
Washington, says that Jerome's is only a creative embellishment of an opinion
or hunch that he had heard expressed previously. "There are people who know
about the mayor who don't know about the parrots," he says. "But nearly
everybody who knows about the parrots—and a lot of people on the South Side
do—knows they live across from the mayor. If people talk about the parrots,
they almost always say something about the mayor. He's had pretty good luck,
and so people make a connection that the parrots, like he says, are good omens,
like finding a penny or a comet or something. Maybe that's how folk stories or
myths get started."
ecological, social and now political realities of their present habitat, it
seems most unlikely that agricultural agents, wildlife managers or earnest
environmental purists are going to have much influence on the Chicago parrots.
Whatever it is that brought them to this safe haven—chance, zoological
complexities beyond comprehension or mysterious higher authorities—theirs, most
assuredly, is a thought-provoking and natural history.