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AROUND HOME : Notes on Gazebos, Sconces and Teakettles : Wild Parrots

June 19, 1988|WILLIAM JORDAN

IT'S A QUIET DAY in Pasadena, or old Santa Ana, or Long Beach, or West Los Angeles--in other words, in most tree-dense suburbs of Southern California. A shriek sounds. A yawp follows. Then a scream. But there is nothing visible up or down the tree-canopied street. The wrenching, heavy-metal commotion continues, however.

Then, up in the foliage of an elm, something moves: a large green parrot with a yellow head and a short, square tail. It appears quickly, then sidles out of sight along a branch. The bird is not alone; it belongs to a flock of wild parrots, most of them once kept as pets. Sightings of such flocks have become a common event in the L.A. area. In this case, the bird is a yellow-headed amazon, but other species, such as the red-crowned amazon and Nanday's Conure, also turn up frequently.

The interesting thing, however, is that wild parrots seem to maintain their numbers as much by recruiting releasees and escapees as by breeding, which they do at a rather low rate.

As early as 1913, they were allowed to roam freely on the Baldwin Estate in Pasadena. Between 1950 and 1952, several hundred were released by smugglers about to be apprehended. In the Bel-Air fire of 1961, private aviaries were opened to save the birds. Many parrots escaped by chewing through their cages; all except heavy wrought-iron cages amount to about a day's work for a parrot's powerful beak.

Intensely social, parrots attract each other with strident voices that they broadcast from high in the air. Eventually, they segregate into single-species flocks. These parrots keep to the lush, imported vegetation of the cities for good reason: They apparently need the fruits, seeds and nuts that do not grow wild in our semi-desert climate.

DR, Ayse Ulay

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