Friday, March 27, 2009
Southern California Naturalized Parrots
By Jessica Pineda, Associate Editor of BIRD TALK and BirdChannel.com
Join her on her quest to learn about each parrot species in The Parrot Birder.
Flocks of naturalized parrots, including species like Brotogeris, live in Southern California.
We interrupt this regularly scheduled Parrot Birder blog to talk about the parrots I get to see everyday. No, not just the Meyer’s parrot and the lovebirds, but the wild parrots that live here in Southern California. Distinct flocks of Brotogeris parakeets, nanday conures, Amazons, Pstticula and mitred conures enjoy the sun just as much as we do.
But where did these birds come from? Some people attribute it to random pet bird releases over the years. I think this is impossible, because there are no reported flocks of cockatiels or budgies among our wild parrots. Most pet birds available today are third or fourth generation (F3 and F4) offspring of the wild-caught parrots that were imported into this country. These pet birds, from the moment of hatching, depend on humans for housing, food, safety and social interaction (if they are kept as solitary animals). These birds would not know how to find their own food, how to evade predators or how to properly interact, socialize and breed with another bird of their species. It would take a wild-caught parrot to retain these survival instincts, especially for the number of years parrots have reported in Southern California (almost 50 years now!).
This is what makes me think these birds are not former pets, but wild-caught parrots that never had a chance to be pets, or breeder birds that escaped from aviaries.
Scientists who study the naturalized flocks include Kimball L. Garrett, the Ornithology Collections Manager of Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and one of the founders of the California Parrot Project, an Karen Mabb, M.S., part of the California Parrot Project, who has over a decade of research on the naturalized parrots and published her Masters Thesis “Naturalized Parrot Roost Flock Characteristics and Habitat Utilization in a Suburban Area of Los Angeles County” in 2003.
Mike Bowles and Loretta Erickson, of the California Parrot Project, wrote an article “Wild In So. Cal!,” published in BIRD TALK magazine (August 2007) and attributed several events that resulted in the naturalized flock of mitred conures we have today. The mitred conures that escaped, most likely in a large group, were not pet birds, but wild birds that had been imported in the United States.
The California Parrot Project says that our naturalized birds were first spotted since the 1960s, a time when wild parrots were being imported into the United States in large numbers. It wasn’t until the Wild Bird Conservation Act was signed in 1992, which imposed “an immediate moratorium on the importation of certain exotic bird species identified by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES),” that the importation of wild birds was made illegal.
Accidental releases or escapes of these wild-caught parrots resulted in the naturalized flocks in San Francisco — otherwise known as the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill — and the flocks of quaker parrots in Brooklyn, Florida and in other parts of the United States. These flocks, as research has shown, are wild parrots that escaped and as eyewitnesses report, usually in large numbers.
The same is true for the Southern California parrots. According to the California Parrot Project, “our birds are either escapees or, more often, descendants of birds originally imported (either legally or illegally) into the United States for the pet bird trade. There was no single event that resulted in the release of parrots into California — rather, dozens or hundreds of instances of escape or release ultimately led to the breeding populations we have today.”
If anything, the wild parrots of Sothern California and Telegraph Hill are testaments to how adaptable these birds are. And it makes it fun for a parrot birder like me, who can watch our naturalized parrots fly around the place I call home!
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Southern California Naturalized Parrots