Photo by Lucy Brzoska
One of the last trees in Barcelona to shed its leaves is the nettle tree or the Almez in Castilian, which lines the streets of Poble Sec and the Eixample, among other neighbourhoods. Then for a week or so, usually around the día de la Constitución, which falls on the sixth day of December, the leaves rain down steadily, settling in fragrant yellow heaps for pedestrians to rustle through. And up in the boughs, quantities of small dark berries are exposed—surprisingly enough, one of the contenders for the mythic lotus fruit. They taste of caramelised dates, though the amount of flesh coating each seed is frugal.
The presence of pigeons flapping heavily in the trees is the first sign the feast is on and you know it won’t be long before the mitred squadrons arrive. These parakeets are not to be confused with the ubiquitous monk parakeets, famed for their colossal, communal nest structures. The mitreds are larger—think parrot-on-pirate-shoulder size—with bold markings: scarlet heads, vivid green bodies and eyes strongly outlined in white.
While stocks last, above the heads of Christmas shoppers and into the January sales, the parakeets descend in disciplined formation to devour the sweet berries, showering the cars and pavements with discarded husks and seeds. They methodically strip the branches, often within arm’s reach. Then on a loud raucous signal, the whole squadron regroups in cacophonous flight, often heading towards Ciutadella Park, where the colony is based.
Probably the main reason they haven’t taken over the city in the same way as the monks have is that, like most parrot species, they don’t construct nests. In their native South America they use hollow trees or crevices in cliffs. A pair of mitred parakeets has bred twice now in an old ventilation hole in one of Barcelona University’s buildings, but such spaces are usually already occupied. In this case, the couple waited patiently for a pigeon family to fledge.