The e-mail, from Highland View Avenue resident Tim O’Brien, arrived last month, addressed to the editor of Eagle Rock Patch.
“Ever since the gale-force windstorm in November, there has been a flock of a dozen or so parrots hanging out in and around the 5100 block of Highland View Avenue, squawking up a storm,” the message began. “Do you know if they got blown here from South Pasadena?”
Precisely a day earlier, Patch got this e-mail from Andrew Hindes, a writer who also lives on Highland View Avenue, between Colorado Boulevard and Hill Drive: “Waking up yet again to the raucous noise of what sound like hundreds of parrots, I wondered if an article on the recent invasion of Eagle Rock by these flying green marauders might be in order.”
Why Eagle Rock?
Parrots in Eagle Rock? Are you hearing them, too—and wondering why they seem to have made a sudden appearance in your neck of the woods?
We got in touch with John McCormack, director and curator of the Moore Laboratory of Zoology, which is “home” to some 60,000 beautifully preserved Mexican bird specimens at . McCormack confirmed hearing the parrots “on many occasions, almost every day.” Although McCormack is relatively new to Eagle Rock—he started teaching biology at Oxy as an assistant professor last fall—he said that the parrots do seem new to the people he has interacted with.
“They've alighted on the trees around our house just south of the college,” he said, adding: “They really can be quite loud.”
But why would parrots be moving to Eagle Rock—whether from South Pas or the Huntington Gardens in San Marino? “Could it be that more trees and green space are appearing?” wonders McCormack. He adds: “Or it could just be a particularly good couple years for parrot breeding in the wild, leading to large flock sizes that will eventually dwindle back down.”
Kimball Garrett, a noted birder who founded the California Parrot Project in 1994 and runs the ornithology collection at the L.A. County Museum of Natural History, said that parrots do move around as the seasons change, but one possibility why there appear to be more of them in Eagle Rock lately may be that there's food in the area they've never found before.
At the very least, said Garrett, who is the author of the 1981 book, "Birds of Southern California," the squawkers in Eagle Rock and adjoining areas such as Mount Washington probably include:
• Red-crowned parrots (Amazona viridigenalis, which are native to Eastern Mexico).
• Yellow-chevroned Parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri, native to South America and identifiable by the chevron-shaped patch on each wing).
• Mitred parakeets (Aratinga mitrata, native to South America).
None of these species—or other species of parrots in L.A.—are native to Southern California, where the natural vegetation “would never support them,” said Garrett, adding: “They were imported for the pet trade” and were first documented in Los Angeles in the 1960s. “Over the years, enough of them spread out to breed successfully and some species are successful here because we planted all sorts of trees that support them.”
An urban legend has it that many years ago a pet store in Pasadena was shut down and all the parrots and parakeets in it were released, according to , an Eagle Rock native and alumna. Garrett said that while he couldn’t comment on such stories, some of them might be true. “I’m sure there were hundreds of incidents like that in which the parrots got released,” he said.
Parrots do have what Garrett called “preferred roosting areas”—tall, dense trees that provide them cover from the elements. If such trees get knocked down in a particular neighborhood during a storm—as was the case recently in large parts of South Pasadena and Pasadena—the parrots may be forced to move elsewhere, Garrett said.
Impact on Other Bird Species
Since the sudden arrival of parrots on Highland View Avenue, said writer Andrew Hindes, “I no longer hear any of the other birds I used to in the morning.” Could it be possible that these birds have somehow been driven away by the parrots?
It’s highly unlikely. Because parrots are almost completely restricted to urban and suburban areas, they probably have little effect on native bird species, explained Garrett. “The birds they interact with are adaptable species, which do well in urbanized areas,” he said, adding that if certain birds seem to have disappeared from a neighborhood, “it almost certainly isn’t because of the parrots.”
Will They Ever Leave?
Hindes has another worry: Once ensconced, do the parrots ever leave?
“Where parrots go and how long they stay there depends on the food sources,” says Garrett. “If there is abundant food in the form of berries, fruits, tree nuts, and sometimes nectar, they will stick around.”
Further, parrots tend to stay throughout the year in places where there is enough variety of trees and shrubs to provide food all year. “They also use traditional roosting sites for many months or even years,” Garrett said, adding that “attendance at roost sites is highest in late fall and winter and lowest in spring and early summer, when they’re more spread out.”
Few Natural Predators
One reason why parrots thrive in the Los Angeles area is that many of their natural predators are absent. “For example, we have no tree-climbing snakes, which could eat eggs and young in the nest,” said Garrett, pointing out that that’s what happens in many of the parrots’ native tropical environments. “Some probably get taken by hawks here, but that’s true of many kinds of birds,” said Garrett.
So far, there has been no human effort to control the growth of the parrot population in L.A., according to Garrett—at least not formally. “The agriculture department did ‘control’—eliminate—some small populations of Monk parakeets many years ago because that species is a known major agricultural pest,” said Garrett. He added: “Undoubtedly some young [parrots] are taken from nests for use as pets, but this practice is apparently not widespread.”
There are no accurate counts of the parrot population in the Los Angeles area, according to Garrett, but there are estimated to be:
• 4,000-plus Amazon parrots (mostly red-crowned parrots, but also lilac-crowned parrots, yellow-headed parrots, etc.).
• 1,000-2,000 Conures (Mitred parakeets, Red-masked parakeets, etc.).
• 1,000 Yellow-chevroned parakeets.
• 500 Nanday parakeets.
To learn more about parrots in the L.A. area as well as to view a variety of photographs, visit Amazornia: The Wild Parrots of Southern California.