They came suddenly and without warning, they disturb our sleep with their incessant squawking, and they excrete their feces all over our campus. A flock of parrots have recently made APU their new home, favoring University Village (UV) most.
Hillary Smith, a junior sociology major, lives in UV and was surprised when she heard the parrots for the first time.
“I started hearing them when I was sitting on my balcony. I heard one and then two and then a lot. And I was surprised that there were parrots in UV. You know, there are cats and raccoons, and now parrots,” Smith said.
The parrots were first seen a few months ago, settling in the tree by the Engstrom parking lot, across from the Student Post Office on East Campus. Parrots in Southern California may seem a little strange, but free-flying parrots have been documented in California since the 1960s, according to the California Parrot Project, established in 1994.
These naturalized parrots, often called the Pasadena Parrots, can be found flying in flocks around Pasadena, the San Gabriel Valley, and even as far south as San Diego. There are many theories as to how the parrots came to be in California.
Weird California, a book that collects strange tales and myths about California, speculates that the parrots came from Simpson’s Nursery in east Pasadena. The nursery caught fire in 1969, although there was another place called Simpson’s Gardenland and Bird Farm that burnt down in 1959. Either way, it is thought that the birds either escaped or were set free during these fires.
Some stories say that the parrots came from Mexico on the black market and were set free by smugglers. Other sources like Wild Parrots of Southern California, an independent site run by naturalist photographers Mike Bowles and Loretta Erickson, say that the parrots we see today are descendants of wild-caught birds that were imported into the U.S. before it was illegal to do so.
Bowles and Erickson speculate that the birds cannot be descendants of escaped pet parrots, as many believe, because pet parrots would not have the tools needed to survive on their own. Wild-caught parrots would have already been equipped with the skills needed to survive the urban jungle. However as the birds arrived in Southern California, they settled in Pasadena first and then as they bread and increased in population, flocks moved to the surrounding areas.
There are 13 different species of naturalized free-flying parrots in California, and five different genera. The most common parrots found in California are of the genus Amazona. There are six species, including the Red-crowned Parrot, the Lilac-crowned Parrot, and the Yellow-headed Parrot. Among the parrots that are considered a naturalized population in California, there are also several species of parakeets who have made California their home.
Southern California is not the only place where feral parrots have naturalized. San Francisco has several populations of Red-masked Parakeets and White-winged Parakeets among other birds, and Santa Barbara has a population of naturalized Lilac-crowned Parrots. North America is also home to the Monk Parakeets that are native to South America. They can be found in Oregon, Texas, Colorado, and Florida, among other states.
Arizona has populations of small parrots native to south-western Africa called the Peach-faced Lovebird. Great Britain is home to flocks of naturalized Rose-ringed Parakeets which are native to the Indian subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa. They were released as pets and began to breed and flourish in London first, then moving out into the countryside as far as Glasgow, Scotland.