Parroting presence: Chattering birds return to the coast

The annual parrot parade has returned to La Jolla, albeit a little early. The bright green birds can be seen flitting from palm tree to palm tree mostly at daybreak and sunset, and if you haven’t seen them, you’ve likely heard them.

“They can be noisy,” said Ashly Cass, operations manager at SoCal Parrot, a nonprofit based in San Diego that focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation of 13 naturalized species of wild parrots in San Diego and north to Santa Barbara. 

“Our … goal is to try to release them and get them back out in the wild, living the life that they’re meant to live,” Cass said. 

The parrot pandemonium – the name for a group of parrots – you’re hearing in La Jolla is the red-crowned amazons, Cass said, though there are eight other species of wild parrots in San Diego and some in La Jolla, like the conures, which are smaller and not as noisy.

The amazons are not migratory but are nomadic, she said, choosing to fly to the coast to roost in palm trees in the spring and summer and making “a bigger scene when they show back up. … They’re hard to ignore.”

Bird behavior

It’s parrot baby season now, Cass said, and the amazons are “really attracted to palm trees,” nesting in the palms’ cavities under the fronds,protected from predators.

Some parrots will stay in palms in East County – where they hang out fall and winter – but as most palm trees are coastal, “there’s lots of real estate [in La Jolla] for them to choose from.”

During the day, the amazons split up into their bonded pairs or small family groups to forage for food.

Near sunset, however, the parrots begin “staging,” Cass said, coming together in larger groups to “chat with each other” about where that night’s sleeping quarters are. 

Then they all fly to the chosen roost together to sleep, chattering again in the morning as they prepare to fly off.

As the breeding season progresses, the communal roosts will shrink in group size, Cass said, as pairs remain in their separated nests to incubate eggs or feed their babies.

This year, the wild parrots deviated from their usual late March descent on La Jolla, with some reported as early as January, Cass said.

The early arrival this year is “somewhat of a mystery,” she said: it could be weather changes, a response to record-setting rainfall or some other unknown reason.

The wild parrots in San Diego will take up nest coastally until the fall, when the babies have fledged and all return to East County, gathering with their offspring for what Cass called “parrot parties.”

And it all repeats annually. The parrots mate for life, with both parrot parents caring for the one or two babies they have each year. 

Once the babies are weaned, a few months after birth, the young birds will “hang out with buddies,” as it takes them four to six years to fully mature and find their own lifelong mate to be with for the rest of their 60- to 70-year lifespan. 

“They’re insanely loyal to one another,” Cass said. “If something happens to their mate, they will spend days coming back, searching for them and calling to them.”

Parrot perils 

And though the amazons are “pretty resilient,” there are vulnerabilities, Cass said, as adult injuries increase during breeding season when the parrots are separated from the entire flock.

“When they’re in the flock, it’s ‘more eyes to the sky,’” she said. “Everybody’s a little bit more protected.”

Injuries also happen as the amazons, fueled by mating hormones, “get kind of silly and dumb during this time of the year,” Cass added, with a lack of sense leading them to fly into buildings or fall into chimneys.

The biggest threat to wild parrots in San Diego, however, is human activity, as the birds are often hit by cars or shot with pellet guns.

Beyond those dangers, hawks and dogs and cats in the area will also hunt the amazons, and parrots in their nests are sitting targets for rats and raccoons, Cass said. 

The red-crowned amazon is endangered in their native habitat of northeastern Mexico.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in wildlife trafficking and habitat fragmentation,” Cass said. “They’re really struggling out there.”

The parrots are not invasive, she said, and don’t compete with native species for food sources.

“So here in Southern California, we feel fortunate to have them.”

Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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