COLLEGE STATION — Last fall, employees in a Texas A&M University System office space were alerted that three parakeets had been placed in the building’s light-filled atrium, and that more were on the way.
They were to be greeted warmly: “The first word we would like to teach them is 'HOWDY!'" an employee for Chancellor John Sharp wrote in an October 2018 email. “Please help them learn by addressing them this way when you see them.”
But — for at least a few days — the birds prompted a different reaction from some employees, who said in emails that their winged guests took to “flying around like crazy” and “don’t understand why we are chasing them.”
“Four birds landed on Cliff’s computer last night. Lona chased them out with a baby gate, while Wanda waved her hands like a crazy person so the bird would not fly down towards our area,” an employee wrote in an October 2018 email. “I hear 2 more birds will be arriving soon. Trying to hold it together over here… are we really spending time on birds?”
"This is not funny and this isn’t a good environment for the birds,” the employee wrote in a separate email. "Maybe someone could recommend we buy a cage and put the birds in it, if we need to have birds, they should be contained.”
Another person asked a colleague in May if they had been "'pooped' upon yet."
A few parakeets — a larger and more vocal breed than the others — seemed to cause most of the consternation and were swiftly removed. Magnetic netting was also installed in the building, which houses the system’s administrative offices, including the chancellor’s, a few miles from A&M’s College Station campus.
A system spokesperson, Laylan Copelin, said the netting was put up to prevent the birds from flying into offices and being trapped there overnight. The five parakeets that remain in the building now are well-liked by employees, he said: “It's just the usual adjustment of new roommates.”
The birds were the brainchild of Sharp, who thought they might provide a relaxing distraction for employees, similar to how some companies host bring-your-dog-to-work days. He returned from lunch one day with several parakeets he’d picked up at a pet store, according to Copelin, and let them loose.
(That batch of birds escaped but was replaced with others.)
A separate group of parakeets — the bigger breed — were placed in a cage in the building last fall and remained there for several weeks while they adjusted to their new environment. But when they were released, a hubbub ensued. The birds flew at those who made eye contact and, according to one message, tried to land on people.
“Be careful if you make your way up here,” an employee warned in a January email. One person made a joking entreaty for a “personal cage” so that the birds “can be free and I’ll be protected in my cage.” Another asked if the custodians could be given a raise because the new birds might be “more to clean up after.”
A system employee advised the building’s occupants to “try to avoid physical interaction with the parrots [sic] as they acclimate to their new freedom and surroundings.”
But the big parakeets’ freedom was short-lived. After a day, they were quickly sent away to A&M’s veterinary school. They never did learn how to say “Howdy.”
Parakeets in the Moore/Connally Building in College Station in August. Employee Dorothy Thompson, known as the "treat lady," puts out food for the birds.
Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune
Five parakeets remain in the A&M building and, on a recent August morning, they were quiet and seemed adjusted to office life. Four of them were perched sleepily on a wooden door sill, their heads lolling towards their chests and a smattering of feathers dusting the floor beneath them.
Dorothy Thompson, an employee in the budgets and accounting department, noted they seemed quiet as she laid a sprig of millet, a bird treat, under a small tree on the third floor.
Thompson said the birds are a pleasant distraction and a point of interest for employees’ children or people delivering packages. They chirp and swoop but are not disruptive, like the larger birds, Copelin said.
First to last: Parakeets peck at a special seed treat; a pair of parakeets perch on moulding on the third floor of the building; a toy hangs from an indoor plant on the third floor of the building.
Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune
They live primarily on the first three floors of the building; the upper levels — which house the chancellor’s office and other system offices, do not open up to the atrium. With natural light and a ground floor filled with plants, the space lends itself to hosting parakeets, Copelin said. "They're in bird heaven."
“For us it’s just part of the normal office climate. People like them,” Copelin said.
Disclosure: The Texas A&M University System has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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