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Mystery Guest

Oct 13, 2017

This episode's mystery guest, Steve Baldwin, leads an unusual tour through Brooklyn. Can you guess his secret before Jonathan and Ophira do?

Heard On Adam Conover: Adam Fixes Everything

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OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

While Ruchi and June get ready to play our final round, it's time for us to play a game. This is Mystery Guest. A stranger is about to come on stage. Jonathan and I have no idea what this person does or what makes them special. But our puzzle guru Art Chung does. That's right, Ophira. You and Jonathan will work together as a team to figure out our mystery guest's secret by asking yes-or-no questions. Mystery guest, please introduce yourself.

STEVE BALDWIN: My name is Steve Baldwin. And I lead an unusual tour in Brooklyn.

ART CHUNG: That's right - an unusual Brooklyn tour. See if you can guess what the tour is about.

EISENBERG: OK. An unusual tour. And your name is Stephen Baldwin. Does your tour have anything to do with Baldwins?

BALDWIN: No.

EISENBERG: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

JONATHAN COULTON: Does your tour have to do with ghosts?

BALDWIN: Nope.

EISENBERG: Does your tour take place outside?

BALDWIN: Yes.

EISENBERG: OK. Does it have to do with nature?

BALDWIN: Yes.

EISENBERG: OK. OK.

COULTON: Interesting.

EISENBERG: All right. There's not...

COULTON: Does it have to do primarily with flora, as opposed to fauna?

BALDWIN: No.

EISENBERG: Oh, wait. Does it have to do with fauna?

BALDWIN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK. Would I be looking up for most of this tour?

BALDWIN: Yes.

COULTON: Wow.

EISENBERG: Not cockroaches.

COULTON: Good one.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And not rats.

COULTON: Is this a tour that has to do with birds?

BALDWIN: Yes, it is.

EISENBERG: OK. Is it one kind of bird we're dealing with?

BALDWIN: Yes.

EISENBERG: All right. Well, this is...

COULTON: I mean, we're in New York City.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COULTON: Is it about pigeons?

BALDWIN: No.

EISENBERG: No.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK. Is it about any bird in the crow family?

BALDWIN: Nope.

COULTON: Is it a bird of prey?

BALDWIN: No.

EISENBERG: Well, that's it.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: That's it. There's three kinds of birds - pigeons...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Pigeon, crows, vultures.

COULTON: Pigeon, crows, birds of prey. There's nothing else.

EISENBERG: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right. All right. There's some other birds out there.

COULTON: Is it about a particular bird?

BALDWIN: Yes, it is.

COULTON: It is about a particular bird.

EISENBERG: Does this bird have a distinctive call?

BALDWIN: Yes.

COULTON: Yes, very distinctive.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Very distinctive. Is it about lost parrots?

COULTON: Parrots.

BALDWIN: Yes, it is.

EISENBERG: What?

CHUNG: Yup.

BALDWIN: It is.

EISENBERG: What?

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Yeah. Wow.

CHUNG: Well done, Ophira. Steve leads a monthly wild parrot safari around Brooklyn College, where a community of wild Quaker parrots have found a home. It is believed that these parrots can trace their origin to a shipment of parrots that escaped from JFK Airport in the '70s.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: How - OK, wait a - what?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: First of all, how big are these parrots?

BALDWIN: They're actually smaller than a pigeon but larger than a sparrow - somewhere in between.

EISENBERG: OK. And what color are they?

BALDWIN: Well, they're mostly green. But they also have blue flight feathers and a sort of bone-colored bill or beak.

EISENBERG: There's little, green parrots flying around Brooklyn?

BALDWIN: There is.

COULTON: How many of them are there? I mean, you don't know for sure, obviously.

BALDWIN: No one knows. Every year, the Audubon Society counts them. But I think they undercount them. They said there were about 400, according to their account. But that's in the whole New York City area. It's not just Brooklyn.

EISENBERG: So where do the birds live in Brooklyn College?

BALDWIN: Well, there are very tall stadium lights around the soccer field.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BALDWIN: They have the nests up there. But also, off campus, there is a particular thorny tree in which they build very large colonial nests.

COULTON: I can't imagine the challenges that they must face living in New York City, given that they are indigenous to where? Some...

BALDWIN: They're indigenous to Argentina.

COULTON: Uh-huh.

BALDWIN: And the reason they fit in here is because Argentina is about the same distance south from the equator as we are north.

COULTON: Oh.

BALDWIN: So very similar climate.

COULTON: Wow.

BALDWIN: But their skills at surviving the, you know, mean streets of New York City - they're very, very vigilant. They're almost paranoid. They're always watching out.

CHUNG: (Laughter).

BALDWIN: They're looking up, looking down.

COULTON: Well, that's correct. That's how you do it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: See something, say something.

BALDWIN: Exactly.

COULTON: Somebody says hello. You're like, what's this guy?

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Yup.

COULTON: Yeah.

BALDWIN: They also have a very wide-ranging diet. They can eat almost anything. They eat leaf buds. They hit the bird feeders. They sort of clear them out. And then they also can eat human food. We've actually photographed them lifting slices of pizza off the ground.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Do they know how to fold it over when they're...

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: They split it in half.

COULTON: They split in half.

EISENBERG: Dab it with their feathers to get some of that grease off.

COULTON: (Laughter) Get some of the grease off, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

CHUNG: There's apparently a connection to the mafia?

BALDWIN: There is possibly a connection to the mafia.

EISENBERG: What?

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: There always is.

BALDWIN: Possibly. Possibly.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

BALDWIN: Back in the 1960s, Kennedy Airport was rife with corruption. In 1967 or '68, apparently, a shipment of parrots came through the airport. And it was marked with a bunch of Argentinean writing. And the guys must have opened it up, figuring there was wine or something else in there. And there were parrots. They just flew out.

EISENBERG: Yeah. They were like, see you later.

COULTON: Thanks a lot, suckers.

(LAUGHTER)

CHUNG: And do they talk with a Brooklyn accent?

BALDWIN: Actually, they do speak in dialect, but I cannot tell you that that is the case. There are dialects, but I haven't decoded them.

EISENBERG: What are their sounds?

BALDWIN: They have about 15 different calls or sequences of notes that indicate different things. One sequence might be, hey, there's food or, hey, who are you? There's a common distress call like a 911 call. I can't imitate it but it's like ak-ak-ak (ph).

COULTON: I've heard that.

EISENBERG: I've heard that.

BALDWIN: Everyone just takes evasion action. So that talking is not just idle chatter. It's like an emergency warning system.

EISENBERG: My guest - I thought it was a joke - guest turned out to be something kind of better than I ever imagined. Thank you so much. Give it up, everybody, for our mystery guest, Steve Baldwin.

(APPLAUSE)

BALDWIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.