PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Each night, dozens of little green parrots come home to the pine trees right outside our bedroom window to spend the night by the ocean.
We're at the legendary Breakers Hotel, and these birds are wild green-cheeked Amazon parrots (Amazona Viridigenalis). They're an endangered species, reduced steadily in number since the 1980s by habitat loss and unsustainable capture rates for the pet trade.
The green-cheeks, native to Mexico, reportedly have only a single breeding site in Florida, a 150-year-old stand of ornamental Australian pine (Casuarina) at The Breakers.
This particular population of parrots on the hotel's grounds, steady in number at approximately 100 to 150 birds for decades, is thought to have resulted from a single release of the wild birds sometime during the 1940s -- perhaps by the hotel's entrepreneurial owner to add some tropical color.
"Breeding of the green-cheek is completely dependent on the naturally forming cavities within a row of old-growth Casuarina that were planted as ornamental vegetation during the 1860s along the original entry road to The Breakers Hotel," reports the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation. "No other suitable nesting trees appear to be available to the species in south Florida."
Twice a day, in the morning when they're leaving for the day and at night when they're returning to their favorite trees, just like the daily rush hours of humans, these small parrots provide "a raucous spectacle for onlookers," the conservatory explains.
Hotel guests with windows near the trees have occasionally complained about the ruckus, asking that either the birds be moved or silenced or that they themselves be transferred to a quiet room with no nearby Australian pines and noisy Mexican miniatures.
The evening period of commotion occurs like clockwork when the birds come flying home right before sundown -- this week at 7:10 p.m., give or take a few minutes. They dive and squawk until they get what they consider a satisfactory branch for the evening, so there's about 10 or 15 minutes or so of light screeching, hardly enough of a misfortune to warrant a call to security or a money-back departure.
Regarding the money, our "standard" room is $610 a night, with $50 back per night in rewards to spend at the hotel's shops or restaurants. The top meal at the top restaurant at the hotel last night was $175 per person, a "tasting" dinner, plus $90 per person for a suggested wine pairing, plus a mandated 20 percent gratuity, so that's $265 per person plus a $53 tip, or a per capita total of $318.
For two of us, that's $636 for a single meal. True, it's at a fine place, L'Escalier, The Breakers' AAA five-diamond restaurant. But at $50 in rewards per night, we'd have to stay 13 nights just to get that one top-notch complimentary meal. That's $7,930 just in room rents, not counting breakfast and lunch, and not counting dinner the other 12 nights.
In any case, the $318 dinner started with something called a "Mozzarella Explosion." A "Cherry Bomb Radish" came next in the second course. That was followed by a "Variation of Powders," just in case, I suppose, the previous things didn't properly ignite.
For dessert, and it would have fit perfectly with the apparent theme, the final course surprisingly didn't feature a slice of "Death by Chocolate" or "Triple Fudge Suicide." The whole thing sounded to me like an entree at a jihadist training camp.
Down the beach in Fort Lauderdale a few nights ago, we saw how the local turtles managed to turn out the lights on a classy beachfront wedding. I asked our server why the hundred or so guests at the fancy wedding dinner on an adjacent patio by the water were eating in the dark, except for some small candles on the tables, most of which were being repeatedly blown out by the breeze.
"We're required to turn off all the outside lights from March through October because the light messes up the turtles' sense of direction during breeding season," he explained. "We even have to turn around the TV screens in the bar so their light can't be seen from the ocean. People camp out on the beach at midnight to monitor the hotel's lights and turn us in if we're in non-compliance."