Austin Energy responded Friday to accusations raised by the Travis Audubon Society that it was knocking down Monk parakeet nests from energy poles during the birds' nesting season.
“When we do remove a nest, our crews will only be working on nests that are up in the energized space," Chief Operating Officer Elaina Ball told reporters gathered at the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Riverside Drive, where the parakeets have built a cluster of nests.
Ball said crews use insulated tools, which protect from electrocution, to bring the nests down. She said those are what the Audubon Society referred to as “long poles” in a Facebook post Thursday afternoon:
This month, Austin Energy is using long poles to knock Monk Parakeet nests from power poles. During this heartless process, adult birds repeatedly dive-bomb the crews, desperately trying to protect their eggs and young from this cruel attack. The parakeet eggs and flightless young plummet to the ground, before Austin Energy crews toss them into a truck for disposal.
“We don’t want [nests] to fall on the ground. We don’t want to create a hazard," Ball said.
“Monk parakeets are great birds. They are very gregarious, intelligent, social. And we have a very large colony here in Austin," she said. "Our crews ultimately want the nests to be wherever the birds put them."
She said one worker on the troubleshooting team has even nursed some baby birds back to health and raised several chicks that had been impacted.
"Our crews are good people," she said. "We’re all part of the community. We’re working with each other to take care of each other and take care of the environment."
Monk parakeets are not indigenous to Central Texas but thrive in Austin and have grown in number over the years. Their nests, which tend to be larger than other bird nests, are typically made of twigs and built in the top branches of trees or power lines, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The birds’ nesting season in warm climates is March through July.
Ball pointed out the parakeet nests at the intersection and noted that none currently pose a safety threat. One nest on the lowest limb of an electrical pole was about the size of a truck tire.
“There are some circuits and situations where these nests can get very, very large. In fact, these Monk parakeets can build nests as large as a car,” she said.
Nests in the electrical line area can create a fire hazard, she said, which, in turn, can create the risk of a power outage, requiring Austin Energy to remove them.
Ball declined to say whether the troubleshooting team has plans to alter the method or timing of nest removal, but she said she has reached out to the Travis Audubon Society to inform the group of the need to remove nests and the team’s methods.
Jordan Price, director of membership for the group, said the organization had received an anonymous tip that nests were being knocked out of poles and that broken eggs and injured birds were just thrown away. He said this was confirmed by an employee at Austin Energy.
He said the Audubon Society understands that giant nests can pose a threat. "We request they remove them during nonbreeding months, but if they must be removed during breeding months then the nest should be inspected," he said. "[If it's not empty] then it should be inspected, and then the birds should be removed by a wildlife specialist."
This post has been updated.