Flocks of screaming green parrots can be heard – and often seen – above the Chapman campus. Dr. Walter Piper, Chapman biology and ornithology professor, has been studying birds for 53 years, or “since I was six years old.” The bird lover gave us the lowdown on the noisy birds high above our heads.
Q: What parrots are on Chapman’s campus?
A: The ones we see commonly around campus are from the genus Aratinga called Mitred Parakeet. These are the birds that are commonly seen year round and make the harsh screams that can be heard. There are other species in Orange County including Amazon parrots which are from the genus Amazona. There are sightings of the Amazon Parrots, too but the most commonly seen birds are the Mitred Parakeets.
Q: Are those the smaller green birds?
A: Almost all parrots are green but yes the Mitred Parakeet are majority green with long tails that are narrow towards the end and have reddish or rose colored spots around the face area. All of the parrots that we see in the area are mostly all green.
Q: How can you tell the difference between the Mitred Parakeet and the Amazon Parrots?
A: The main way we can tell the difference between the two birds is that the Mitred Parakeet have these long thin tails whereas the Amazon Parrots have shorter and stubbier tails.
Q: Where did these parrots originate?
A: The Mitred Parakeet are originally from southern South America, and the Amazon Parrot is from Mexico. A lot of were most likely captured there and then brought to Orange County in the pet trade. They were either released by their owners and then established themselves or possibly released by people who had caught them and were afraid that they would be caught with illegally imported birds.
Parrots from Central and South American have shown an amazing ability to adapt to Orange County. Photo courtesy from wikimedia.
Q: How are these birds are able to survive in such a different ecosystem?
A: The main resource that they need is food. They get majority of their water source from the foods they eat. In Southern California humans have set up these communities in which we irrigate and we have established all of these fruit trees that we have put out and as a result this provides a lot of opportunities for these Parrots to eat. We have set up a situation for them that is just as good if not better than what they would naturally have.
Q: What do they eat?
A: They are very good at finding food ranging from anything like palm nuts, to various fruits and berries that they find on trees. In the tropics, they are used to eating off all the fruit on one tree then moving to the next tree that is fruiting and it creates a cycle and that is what they are doing here in Southern California.
The mitred parakeet enjoy eating a wide variety of fruits and seeds they find in orange county. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.
Q: Is their presence cause an imbalance in our ecosystem?
A: I do not think so. We are setting out these fruit trees that would not have existed here otherwise and now we have parrots here that would not have existed otherwise and they are both unnatural species that are now present in Southern California. We have made almost the entire region unnatural so I don’t think there is a problem. The parrots do not appear to interact negatively with any of the native species of birds. Some people thought that they might compete for these holes that can be found in trees where they are found to nest but luckily there are not many other species of birds that can live in the suburbs like the parrots, so there are not any other competitors for these nest holes.
We have indirectly created an almost perfect ecosystem that allows these birds to thrive in Orange County. Photo courtesy of wikimedia.
Q: Do their numbers appear to be rising, falling, or remaining the same?
A: If anything they are most likely rising. San Diego also has a population of parrots and in Los Angeles around the Pasadena area there is a huge population of parrots.
Q: Could these parrots be kept as pets?
A: They are just as wild as the ones that are produced in their natural places in South America. If you raise a nestling from an egg then it will be tame and it will not bite but if you take a wild caught bird and you try to put it in a cage that was raised by its parents in the wild then it will not make a good pet.
Parrots have thrived in Orange County because they have few predators and their big beaks and aggressive nature often deter any hawks that contemplate conscripting them into meals. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.
Q: Do they have any predators?
A: Not a lot here because in the city and the suburbs there are not as many raptors, hawks, and falcons that would normally try to eat them. It is a pretty good situation for them from that standpoint. Parrots are pretty nasty birds to try to tangle with anyway because they have a tendency to bite. They have a big bill that makes them pretty dangerous. They have fewer predators here than they would normally have in their natural habitat.