Wah Mei birds sing to each other in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, where Parks workers with leaf blowers have been frightening them.
Songbird owners feeling blown away in S.D.R. Park
By Ronda Kaysen
The Wah Mei songbirds of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, chirping away in their brown wooden cages, have some serious competition: gas-powered leaf blowers.
A longtime staple of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, the tiny, brightly colored birds appear most mornings to sing to each other while their owners generally older Chinese men chat or read various Chinese newspapers on nearby park benches. But Department of Parks and Recreation employees blowing leaves and trash with their high-powered blowers have interrupted the birds signature call and gotten their owners feathers in quite a ruffle.
The Villager caught up with the Wah Mei birds one recent morning. They were chirping among themselves south of Delancey St. between Forsyth and Chrystie Sts., enjoying the warm morning sun as much as anyone. Their owners, however, were anything but cheerful.
[The leaf blowers] are here every morning, even on Sundays, said Roger Wong, a regular park visitor and owner of a dull-colored female Wah Mei. When asked how he deals with the Parks Department employees, Wong shrugged his shoulders. We cover up the birds and let them blow, he said. Wongs 1-year-old bird, larger than her colorful male neighbors, perched in her cage and tweeted.
On a few occasions, Wong said, other bird owners had approached the park management to complain about the persistent noise. Their requests went unanswered, he said. They just keep going on like that, he said. The leaf blowers spend up to an hour cleaning the area, according to Wong.
The raucous din disturbs more than the singing birds. I have been suffering here in this vortex of evil in an ongoing saga, said Anna Magenta, a longtime Forsyth St. resident and S.D.R. Park gardener. Its so traumatic that I think you dont recover from it.
Magenta recently purchased a Radio Shack noise meter and measured the noise at 75 decibels. Fifty decibels is the city limit for noise pollution. Following a call to the mayors office, Magentas meter now reads the noise level at 50 decibels. Its considerably lower now, she said.
Noise or not, the parks must be cleaned and S.D.R. Park, spanning a busy swath of Forsyth and Chrystie Sts. from Houston to Canal Sts. on the boundaries of Chinatown, is subject to the loud horns of barreling cars and trucks and frequent construction along its perimeters.
Wilfredo Malve, who was raking leaves south of the soccer field at Forsyth and Grand Sts. on Monday morning, sees his leaf blower as a necessary tool. Sometimes the people complain, he said, dressed in a green Department of Parks and Recreation T-shirt and matching baseball cap. But we have to use it [the leaf blower.] Theres a lot of garbage. His leaf blower lay unused atop his rolling garbage can.
Malve has been working for the Parks Department for two years as part of the citys Work Experience Program, which makes people work for their welfare benefits with a goal toward full employment. Malve said he uses the leaf blower a few times a week, but would use it more often if the device were easier to manage. Its really hard to get it going, he said. Youve got to pull this string a bunch of times. Its really difficult. He shook his head and glanced across the park at the dormant blower.
Malves boss, Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro, agrees the blowers are the most effective way to clean a city park. Wed rather not use the blowers, but it allows us to clean a park not only more quickly, but more thoroughly, he said. It really allows you to get the dirt up and it really allows for a much cleaner park. All of the citys parks are cleaned with the help of the blowers, said Castro.
When Malve does use the blower which he says cuts down his work time considerably he does not wear his protective earmuffs so he can hear the calls of disgruntled park visitors. If someones yelling at me, saying, Yo! Its blowing in my eyes! I cant hear them [with the earmuffs on.]
Magenta suggested cleaning the parks after the songbirds have had their fill. All they have to do is come after the activities are done, Magenta suggested. Come at noon. Currently, the parks are cleaned daily between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The morning to the dismay of the Mai Wah birds is the least disruptive time of the day, said Castro. You have to clean in the morning, he said. You dont want to clean when people are there. You can empty trash cans and other things, but if youre going to sweep up a park, you try to do it before the people arrive. Most people arrive, he said, in the afternoon and evening.
Castro said he was unaware of the Mai Wah owners concerns, but planned to address the issue. Its a problem and Im very sympathetic to their concerns, he said. Well try and see how we can minimize this for them. Whatever changes are made, the blowers will not be eliminated entirely, he said.
With the Mai Wah birds chirping a block to the north, Malve had charged up his blower, a cloud of trash and leaves billowing around him. When The Villager skirted past, he moved his blower aside, clearing a path.