Wild Parrots of Irena Street
Dawn. I stood waiting, watching on my roof deck for the moring sun to break over the horizon. I waited for them to wake up. Then, shortly after sunrise, stillness gave way to chatter in a gently swaying palm tree. Soon, about 50 parrots emerged from their roost, squawking as they circled above me in the early morning sky. Thirty minutes later, they disappeared from sight.
The green parrots are Mitred Conures or Mitred Parakeets (Aratinga mitrada), which comprise one of ten species of parrots that reside in Southern California. They have never flown at elevations between 1000-2700 meters in their native neotropical habitat of Peru, Bolivia or Argentina. Instead, these naturalized parrots forage, roost, and breed in Redondo Beach, California, one of the beach cities in Los Angeles County.
Southern California has thousands of wild parrots, including three species of conures: the Blue-crowned Parakeet (Aratinga acuticaudata), Mitred Parakeet, and Red-masked Parakeet (Aratinga erythogenys). Wild parrots have been observed in cities, such as Pasadena and Temple City. Temple City has had as many as 1200 parrots. Early morning commuters have seen parrots flying low over the Malibu freeway. Mitred Conures have been seen foraging on the campus of California State University Long Beach. Parrots have been spotted in San Fernando Valley, Ventura County, San Gabriel Valley, Manhattan Beach, and Palos Verdes.
Records show that the parrots were imported to Southern California between 1968 and 1985 for the pet trade. And between 1981 and 1985, 41,549 Mitred Conures were imported. But pet owners either let them go, or the parrots escaped, making their home in non-indigenous surroundings. Yet, they have thrived because they have grown accustomed to the temperate climate and have found an abundance of tropical plants, including evergreen trees in the winter and deciduous trees in the summer. Conures and other parrots can eat a variety of fruits and seeds, such as figs, apricots, and sunflower seeds and flowers and nectar from Eucalyptus and Coral Trees.
I first saw the conures in a Eucalyptus tree a half a block from my home. I heard the birds squawking nearby but couldn’t identify their calls. Then, one day in late February 2001, my step-daughter and I saw green birds flying overhead. She said someone at her school told her the birds were California parrots. I didn’t believe her. I called and asked Jess Morton, the president of Palos Verdes/ Southbay Audobon Society if there were parrots in Redondo Beach. He replied, "Yes." I gave him a description of the birds-green with red spots on their wings, small patches of red on their head, and yellow spots on their breasts. He said, “Sounds like Mitred Conures.”
From then on, I listened throughout the day for the parrots that separated into groups of from two to six and foraged within a 2-mile radius of their roosting site on Irena Street. Most afternoons between 4:30 and 6:00, they returned to a regular pre-roosting site--four flowering Eucalyptus trees on Vincent Street. All that separated the trees from Redondo Beach High School was a cyclone fence. Of course, the parrots flew over the school grounds and sometimes landed in the trees overlooking the school yard. In the Eucalyptus trees, they ate the juice of the pink flowers, sprinkling the discarded petals on the sidewalk, the petals often falling on my face as I stood beneath the tree looking up at them.
After their meal, they wiped their bills on their perch, all the while chattering, some in pairs, some fighting, some preening (caring for their feathers), some allopreening (mutual preening).
I always knew when the parrots were about to return to their roost because one conure would sound off like a drill sergeant. In response, the rest of the flock vocalized loudly in unison. Sometimes I followed them to their roost and other times I walked home to watch and listen from my roof deck on Juanita Street. They flew in and out of the tall palm tree and vocalized heavily until the sun disappeared. Gradually their calls dwindled to one or two last calls. Then, they were silent until the next morning when the sun woke them again.
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This article was posted on March 26, 2005
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