More Events Contributing to California’s Wild Parrots

From San Francisco to San Diego, the sight of California’s wild parrots flying through the skies has become commonplace.  Large flocks can be seen at dusk and dawn flying into the horizon. Their unique style of flying in pairs is unforgettable, their loud and raucous calls unmistakable, and their story is one of mystery, challenge, and irony.

Wild parrots have been documented in California since the 1960s, yet their presence may have begun years before.  But how did they get here? There are several local urban legends on that subject and the same stories always seem to crop up wherever parrots are found. Aside from urban legends, some individuals have come forward to tell of actual events they reportedly witnessed.

One woman reported that in the late 1940s, her mother would regularly fly parrots up from Mexico in her small airplane. She would sell these parrots in order to pay for fuel for her return flight. These wild parrots where transported in small, stick cages. On more than one occasion, this woman was present when some of the parrots had broken free from their cages and were loose in the cockpit. When the door to the plane was opened, a number of parrots flew away. Unfamiliar with parrot species, she presented an old black and white photograph of her as a child and one of the parrots her family let her keep. There was no doubt her mother was flying in Amazons.

Another woman has reported that in the late 1960’s a van carrying exotic birds destined for sale was involved in a traffic accident. While visiting relatives, she heard a loud bang and when she arrived at the scene, cages had fallen from the van and birds were flying everywhere. The driver scrambled to catch as many as he could with bystanders trying to help. She couldn’t recall how many there were or if any were ever recovered, but she did say, “It was quite a sight.”

A local gentleman recounted that in 1977 or 1978, while the circus was in town, he went to visit one of his friends who was employed by the circus. He and his friend heard some of the workers yelling and screaming at each other in the next tent. One of the managers was furious, because after the morning feedings, someone had left the cage doors to the Red-crowned and Yellow-headed Amazons wide open. Seven Red-crowned Amazons and six Yellow-headed Amazons had escaped. For the three days following, this man and his friends combed the area in search of the escaped birds. They spotted a couple in a nearby park, but were never able to recover them.

Most interesting is that a flock of wild parrots can still regularly be seen in very close proximity to where each of these three incidents reportedly occurred.

In our travels with our local flocks we have spoken with many people that can’t remember a time when the parrots weren’t around. Visiting a popular neighborhood for wild parrot sightings, one woman offered that the home she was living in had been owned by her family since the early 1960s and the parrots had always been there as far back as she could remember.

Both of us, having been raised in the area for most of our lives and then as adults, working in close proximity to a wild parrot hot spot; we never saw, heard or witnessed the wild parrots’ presence. However, we lived the history of the area and we instantly knew how easy it would have been for them to survive and flourish. The conditions were ideal.

The only thing that is certain is that several different events have contributed to the status and distribution of wild parrots in California today.

In truth, the vast majority of Southern California’s wild parrots are descendants of wild-caught parrots who were imported into the United States before importation was banned and for one reason or another, escaped or were intentionally released. The survival success of some of these species may also be related to the number of imported and smuggled birds to this region.

Already well versed in their survival skills, these parrots were able to establish themselves in exotic plant-life-rich areas.