Animal Talk: I’m seeing parrots. What about you?
I know the weather in Ramona is great, but I didn’t know we went tropical! I’ve been seeing parrots. Have you?
Green parrots have been living in Ramona for several years now. I was thinking who tracks these birds, as I’ve watched them grow in number. And then I found out.
SoCal Parrot is a local nonprofit that rescues and rehabilitates injured and orphaned naturalized parrots. It is the only local organization dedicated to rehabilitating and protecting wild parrots. Its values are to rescue, educate and protect these majestic green birds.
San Diego actually has several hundred wild and naturalized parrots thriving, while their population numbers continue to decline in their own native habitats. An element that drives SoCal Parrot is that some species of our local parrots are listed as endangered. These same parrots are taken from nests as babies and sometimes even smuggled across borders illegally for the pet trade. SoCal Parrot believes that these birds are intelligent and unique, and they hope to keep them wild and protect them for future generations to enjoy.
Broke Durham founded SCP when she was working at Project Wildlife. On a particular day, a pair of naked nestling parrots were blown out of their tree, nest and all, in spring of 2007 and brought to the Project Wildlife Triage Center during one of Brooke’s shifts. Because these green Amazon parrots were not considered native wildlife in San Diego, no real protocol existed to deal with the baby orphans. With the help of another Project Wildlife technician who had experience with domestic baby parrots, Brooke and her husband Josh raised the pair to be a members of her own personal flock/family.
These particular parrots were too young to avoid imprinting on humans and had no chance of being released as wild birds, but the idea is beginning to take hold among wildlife agencies that there may be a chance for a parrot release program someday. Many of the species of parrot found in the wild in Southern California are critically endangered in their native ranges, with habitats dwindling and little hope of preserving those wild instincts.
Brooke founded the SoCal Parrot nonprofit to bridge the gap of care and consideration that naturalized parrots fall into because they are neither native wildlife nor truly domestic.
I had the pleasure of meeting Fiona, one of their volunteers who also started as a volunteer with Project Wildlife in San Diego. She was already working with wild flocks when she met Brooke, who introduced her to the world of wild parrots. Most of the organization’s team members have a background in wildlife rehabilitation.
If you’ve seen them or heard their wild squawk, you aren’t imagining it. We have flocks of green parrots living in the wild in San Diego County, and Ramona has a large flock of its own. They look just like a green parrot from South America. In fact, that’s where they may be from.
There are many theories as to how they got here; some even call it urban legend. When I asked Fiona, she said that the one thing she could say for sure about these flocks was that birds who comprise our wild flocks today are undoubtedly descendants of wild caught birds. Meaning, pet birds would not have the skills to thrive in a wild environment and adjust the way these parrots have done. So, that leads me to believe that poachers who were going to get caught and arrested released their evidence into the wild — and surprise — they are now thriving all over California.
If you see them around, then just enjoy the sights and sounds of them. If you want to help our local naturalized parrots, you can fill out a brief survey on the SoCalparrot.org website that helps them track and monitor the flocks as well as determine appropriate release sites.
“Our naturalized parrots are definitely ‘hybridizing,’ which can be a complicated subject in aviculture,” Fiona said. “Basically, in their native territories these species of birds would never cross paths but here they obviously do. Hybridizing is one of the many reasons we need more research on our wild parrots.”
I wondered how they could survive the winters up here. After all, we are in a mountain desert region, not that comfortable for tropical birds. But Fiona says that these parrots enjoy our mild Southern California climate. The naturalized parrot species are thriving in climates that are even cooler than ours, for instance the famous flock of conures in the Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco. Fiona explained that both the parrots and hummingbirds have expanded their territories and are thriving because of our love for subtropical ornamental plants. They are two of the few species that actually benefit from human cohabitation.
They think there are around 50 flocks in San Diego County, but more research is needed to get a firm grasp on the numbers. It’s probably safe to say there are hundreds, if not thousands of psittacines in the county. There are also confirmed flocks in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. Wow, they can breed!
So let’s keep planting those subtropical plants they love and enjoy our new tropical climate, thanks to the birds. If you find a hurt or abandoned parrot, please call the SoCal Parrot Hotline (858-522-0852) and talk to a trained volunteer. If needed, they will send a team to assess the situation.
They are working to develop relationships with local veterinarians and animal services. For more information, visit www.socalparrot.org. Facebook.com/socalparrot
Jae Marciano is a Ramona resident.
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