Written by Lindsay Bradshaw, Animal Care Registrar
You will probably hear them before you see them – they cause quite a ruckus wherever they go. You might look up and catch a glimpse of something flying between the trees. You might look at a power line just as something takes off. First there is nothing, but if you look for long enough, you’ll see them; I’m talking, of course, about the green and red parrots that call San Diego home. If you have been to the neighborhoods of Ocean Beach or Point Loma, you will probably be familiar with these rather “squaky” residents. There are a variety of species that all coexist in neighborhoods where palm trees and other non-native plants abound that the parrots rely on for food and nesting. You might see the red- or lilac-crowned Amazons, or maybe the smaller green conures. Whatever the species, they are LOUD and you will know when the flock is around.
Like many people in San Diego who came here because it is a great city to live in, these birds are transplants and are non-native to the area as well. Because they have been here so long (the first recorded parrots were in the 1950’s) and don’t pose a threat to native wildlife and plants, we call these birds “naturalized”, not “invasive”. The red-crowned Amazons (sometimes called Mexican red headed Amazons) are the most common of the local parrots, and are found in the wild in throughout North-Eastern Mexico. In the wild, however, they are classified as endangered. Loss of habitat is a contributing factor to this, along with smuggling. Parrots are popular pets because of their sociability and intelligence and unfortunately this has led to birds being trapped and smuggled across the border for the pet trade.
There are many theories surrounding where the parrots came from, but the most likely source of the parrots are birds that were pets and released into the wild or escaped. It is an all too common story of people being attracted to a parrot’s beautiful plumage and ability to talk and mimic, but soon realizing they are messy, loud, and demand attention (and they bite!). One thing people can do if they are interested in a pet bird is to do lots of research and look into rescue facilities to adopt a bird. Parrots are long lived and form intimate bonds with their owners but it isn’t uncommon for a single bird to have up to 10 owners in its lifetime. Birds don’t make good pets for most people, so the founding members of the wild parrots of San Diego were likely once someone’s pet.
Although rare in Mexico, the parrots are thriving here. A local non-profit called SoCal Parrot focuses on rescue and release of these urban wild birds. Each year they take in numerous birds, mostly babies, hand feed them, teach them how to forage, and then release groups of them into areas with known flocks. If you ever see an injured or abandoned wild parrot, call their emergency rescue line at 858-522-0852.
If you are interested in parrots and want to meet our two rescued conure ambassadors, book a Bird Animal Encounter for your next visit! You and up to 6 guests will get a tour of our Raptor Row, Avian Prep Room (including a visit with the conures) and you will get to meet a bird of prey up close out on the glove. It’s a great experience for all those bird lovers out there!