Update, February, 2012
Thank you for visiting our web site and your interest in the Wild Parrots of Santa Barbara. The first news that everyone wants to know is how many do we now have? I am happy to report we have 12 so we are one parrot up from the beginning of last breeding season. We have also reported this count to the annual World Parrot Count, documenting the urban parrot flocks around the world. Should you be interested in learning more please visit http://cityparrots.org/world-parrot-count/. We are also happy to report that during the December 31, 2011 Santa Barbara bird count, the parrot flock just happened to fly over the bird group stationed at Parma Park. They were unable to identify the parrots so located our web page to add an ID to what they saw. We hope they will be included in the different species reported for the 2011 count.
The flock has experience a very unusual series of events where an explanation is not apparent. They have allowed a Coopers Hawk to mingle in their midst. Some pictures of these encounters are below. The hawk does not fly with them but perches among them. He sometimes places himself on the same branch where a parrot is foraging. The hawk occasionally chases one of the parrots. The short chase includes a screaming parrot, very close aerobatic flying only to have the hawk veer off and both birds return safely. We have witnessed this many times. The same is true for the local crow and raven population. They allow the hawk to perch close to them and will also go through the same chasing game without actual combat. The resident quail and jays are not so lucky. He will dive head first into a Juniper bush in pursuit of quail. Of course this strange behavior could change in time but is highly unusual. In the more than 35 years we have been monitoring our flock we have never observed this. This could be a positive, short time occurrence for the flock. Hawks are very territorial so than the Coopers if he remains habitable with the parrot flock may at times chase off more aggressive Coopers Hawks who continue to be the number one threat to the flock. We will keep this observation active on our updates.
The Double Yellow Head x Lilac Crowned hybrid bird female did not have young in 2011. Two years ago she raised one baby who remains in the flock. Perhaps this year will be a better year for her. Should you see the flock fly overhead, look for two birds probably flying together with slightly larger wings than the other flock members. These will be the mother and her offspring. We receive so many inquiries about the hybrid that we have posted pictures below showing the original parents and some of the variation in colors of their offspring.
September thru December the flock had stayed longer than usual at their alternate San Roque site. We do not have reason for this other than the arrival of some of the fruit they forage seems to be a littler later than usual. Perhaps from low rainfall. We receive sightings of their locations and activities from many Santa Barbara locations and truly appreciate these. It allows us to more accurately report how they behave. The standard wild parrot day begins with them leaving their roosting location in Montecito approximately 7:00 AM and return around 5:00 PM. The flock is now spending most all of their time around their Montecito location in as they prepare for this years nesting.
Oranges, loquats, apples plus pineapple, strawberry and lemon guavas make up the majority of foraged fruit that we can observe. A special treat are new flower buds from Majestic Magnolia trees. We have learned that in other SB areas they can be found eating Passion Fruit and Cocoa pods.
We continue to receive inquiries about the origins of the Santa Barbara flock of parrots so will keep the history below for every future updates.
Where did the SB parrots come from? Over the years we have entertained several explanations, they are escaped pets, smugglers released their captives while being pursued by law enforcement and that the Santa Barbara Bird Farm released them during the 1977 Sycamore Canyon fire. It is interesting that these same stories with different characters are used to explain the wild parrots found in most California locations. The Conures of Telegraph Hill have been confirmed as escapees mostly through sightings of leg bands and the Nanday Conures found in Malibu are surely from escaped or released pets.
The fire and release story for the Santa Barbara flock is not correct, we did not release any birds during the fire and also did not have amazons at that time. The wild parrots that make up our flock, primarily Lilac Crowned Amazons were here and well established in 1975 when we relocated the bird farm to its current location. At that time there were seven members to the flock. This number increased to a maximum of seventeen back in the early 80s and now down to twelve. Through the years the challenge to their existence has been demonstrated with a low of only 6 birds in 2002. Escapees have joined the flock but their survival is relatively short. The one exception was a Double Yellow Headed Amazon that joined the flock in the late 80s. He paired with a Lilac Crowned hen who had been mated to the flock leader. The timing was crucial as the flock leader had been captured by a breeder just before the arrival of the DYH. The Double Yellow immediately took control and established order in the scatter flock. The flock grew in numbers. Until his 1999 disappearance he produced offspring for approximately 14 years. It should be noted that each year there is an average of 3 babies raised in this flock. With the flock starting at 7 birds in 1975 and now 35 years later there should be well over 100 flock members. Their survival is highly challenging
These birds that have benefited from increased human introduction of additional food and water sources. The SB flock has acquired an appetite for the local, abundantly available fruit. On the other side lost suitable, preferred nesting sites from the continued removal of long lived trees such as Eucalyptus and Oaks.
The suggestion that these birds originated from escapees who learned to survive is difficult to support. None of the birds with the exception of the Double Yellow Head has ever demonstrated prior human contact. The release by smugglers is improbable. Smugglers will immediately clip the wings of captured birds to prevent escape.
After studying these wild parrots we are considering another possible explanation, they were always here. Of the California wild parrot flocks Santa Barbara is host to the northernmost and smallest flock of these LC Amazons. Larger flocks are found further south in Pasadena, East LA and San Diego. But these flocks have been substantially altered by random escapees and released pets. Unlike our isolated flock they cannot be studied as a homogeneous flock. We have also noted that the Santa Barbara LCs have a much deeper maroon coloring than the birds that had been imported from Mexico suggesting a possible variation from the dominant species just south of the border. Perhaps a past El Nino created a short-term migration north, we will never really know.
Please enjoy the photos below and as always your comments and questions are greatly appreciated. If you should have pictures of the wild parrots and wish to share them we will try to include them in future updates with the pertinent information and credit to you.