Southern California is loaded with parrots. Many escapes and introductions have taken place over the years and some species have found the warm, dry climate to their liking. Quite a few species are well-established and breeding from San Diego to Los Angeles and beyond.
Red-crowned Parrot in Irvine Regional Park
Despite the number of species involved only one, the Red-crowned Parrot, is considered countable by the California Bird Records Committee. This is because of the very stringent requirements that the committee has adopted that an introduced species needs to meet in order to be placed on the checklist:
The Committee will also review records of breeding populations of introduced species not on the state list, but only if evidence is submitted that attempts to prove (a) the correct identification of the species and (b) the viability of the population. To be judged viable, a population must: (i) have bred in the state for fifteen (15) consecutive years, (ii) in general, be increasing or stabilized after an initial period of increase, (iii) be judged to have occupied all geographically contiguous suitable habitat to such a degree as to sustain the population and be thought unlikely to significantly diminish, and (iv) occupy an environment judged similar enough in ecological factors (e.g., climate, vegetation, food, shelter, competitors, predators) to the species’ natural habitat, or to other successful introductions, that permanent establishment seems likely.
In particular, subsection iii seems to be the hurdle that most species can’t clear. After all, if a bird is established in suburban Orange County, for it to inhabit “all geographically contiguous suitable habitat” it would have to be everywhere in suburban southern California, which is a huge swath of territory. And the problem isn’t limited to parrots and parakeets. Nutmeg Mannikins, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, and other species also are found in California, the mannikins in particular in large numbers, but they can’t be counted if you are playing by the rules of the California Bird Records Committee.
This is not to say that records committees shouldn’t be cautious about adding introduced species to checklists. After all, the annals of North American birding history are loaded with examples of species that were introduced, flourished for awhile, and then died out. Skylarks in Brooklyn, anyone?
But this post isn’t meant to be about bird records committees and their sometimes inscrutable decisions. No, this post is about the awesomeness that is Red-crowned Parrots on the loose in Irvine Regional Park.
Red-crowned Parrots have been present in southern California since at least 1963 but weren’t added to the California checklist until 2001. This native of northeastern Mexico is declining in its natural range and is considered endangered by BirdLife International for, among other reasons, its exploitation by the cage-bird trade. This means that the free-flying populations in southern California and southern Texas could end up important to the species’ survival in the wild, ironic because they only exist in California and Texas because of the cage-bird trade. (From 1970-1982, 16,490 birds (mostly nestlings) were legally imported into the USA.)
I love that there are wild and free parrots in southern California, though their enjoyment of acorns makes me wonder if they could have a negative effect on other species that depend on them for their food. I know that the Acorn Woodpeckers were none too happy about the parrots being in the oak trees at Irvine Regional Park and were constantly chasing the parrots away from the trees that were loaded with acorns.
The next time you find yourself in southern California take the time to check out the parrots. They are well worth going out of your way to see!
I hope you liked these shots of Red-crowned Parrots. If you want to see more great galleries of birds check out 10,000 Clicks, our big and growing collection of gallery posts!