Environment & Science

#ISeeChange: Where Southern California's parrots are from, and where they're going

Hundreds of parrots fill the trees near a school in South Pasadena.
Hundreds of parrots fill the trees near a school in South Pasadena.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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In 17 years, Altadena resident Lizbeth Williams has never seen so many noisy birds around her house. 

“Every evening, I get the pleasure of hearing hundreds of bright green parrots hanging out in our local neighborhood tree,” she tells KPCC. “In the years before, they simply flew by, but now they’re here to stay and enjoying the loquat fruits. And I would like to know what that is all about.”

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The parrots’ origins are rooted in myth – rumors abound they came from a pet store that burned down. What is clear, is that people brought them here as escaped or released birds from the exotic pet trade.

People have noticed parrots free and flying around California for about half a century, says Kimball Garrett, who founded the California Parrot Project to track them over 20 years ago. 

KPCC explored the mystery of the parrots in 2012, when Madeleline Brand visited with Garrett, who also manages ornithology collections at the L.A. County Natural History Museum. 

Exotic birds in her loquat tree may surprise Lizbeth Williams, but Garrett says, without natural predators, they’re probably here to stay. “You know they may move, 5, 10 miles — 20 miles maybe. But they don’t migrate. It’s not like they’ll move to Canada, something like that.”

And Garrett describes Southern California parrot populations as clever at adapting to their available food sources

“They’re really good at finding and exploiting food resources that are kind of ephemeral — they might have fruit or some kind of seeds for just a few weeks, and they find ’em and eat ’em all and then move on to somewhere else.”

Nobody is tracking the parrots comprehensively. We don’t know whether there are more of them than there used to be (though that is a suspicion voiced by frequent observers). Whether they’ll be flourishing in a century, spread to San Francisco, or wiped out, we can’t guess without further research. What we know about the population and its range has been crowdsourced from birders at Cornell’s eBird site: 

#ISeeChange is a national effort to track how climate change is affecting our daily lives. 

Notice any bugs in your backyard lately? Wondering why you're seeing coyotes where you don't expect? Seen changes in your favorite tide pool? Snap a picture and tag it @KPCC and #ISeeChange on Twitter or Instagram, let us know through our Public Insight Network, or post your questions on www.iSeeChange.org. Then see what others have found and observed in their environment.