Tracking the wild parrots of San Diego County

Seen a wild pandemonium of parrots lately? Report it immediately.

That’s the question and request posed by University of San Diego Biology Instructor Dr. Janel Ortiz and her San Diego Parrot Project, along  with “parrot sighting submission form” and a hardy SDPP thank you.

Ortiz took the academic show on the road Wednesday. That’s when she and her flock of students took flight with a plan to begin a survey of the wild parrots of San Diego County. They will track the birds monthly, trying to determine where the birds forage for food, types of food they seek and other natural behaviors. She also is asking fellow county residents if they see something parrot, say something parrot to university parrot watchers.

The parrots shouldn’t be hard to miss. Other than their rainforest color, they also make noise en masse, especially around dawn and dusk.

This is parrot time, to be sure, as wild parrots go looking for mates in mid-February, so they’re on the move as they make their moves. A record number of parrots appeared along the coast last year, according to parrot people.

Brooke Durham, founder of the rescue group So Cal Parrot, said rains may have contributed to more baby parrots having the food they need to survive.

“The rains stimulated a larger supply of blossoms and fruits that the parrots require,” she said. “So that in turn helps the parrots fledge a larger brood of healthy babies.”

Escondido has been one of the places where wild parrots have been sighted over the years. That number includes 13 species of wild parrots most commonly spotted over Point Loma, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, El Cajon Courthouse and South Oceanside.

Karen Straus, coordinator of the San Diego Bird Festival, hosted by the San Diego Audubon Society, said the birds do not migrate, but stay in San Diego year-round. They have established communal roosts around the county that they return to each night. During the day, the birds will fly out to a variety of food sources, depending on the time of year.

University of San Diego parrot survey volunteers practice technique/San Diego Parrot Project

While there is no single explanation as to how the birds got here, Straus said there were two main theories, both of which may be true.

One is that the parrots came to California as pets.

“People like to have birds, especially parrots, as pets,” Straus said. “But sometimes, maybe there’s a behavior problem with the bird or maybe [the owners] are moving and they can’t take the bird with them, so the birds are simply released into the wild or the birds may escape into the wild.”

According to The California Parrot Project, hundreds of released and escaped parrots throughout the state over time have led to the wild, breeding populations today.

The other theory, Straus said, is that parrots native to northern Mexico came to California in search of a suitable habitat as areas of Mexico became deforested.

Whatever the reason, the exotic birds have established themselves as a colorful addition to more than 500 species of birds found throughout San Diego County.

Ortiz said there will be opportunities for members of the community to participate in their study.

“San Diego’s a big area, so me and my students – we can only cover so much ground. So having extra people to help us on the ground to look for these birds is going to help us out tremendously,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz created a Facebook page for the study. Click here to learn more about the San Diego Parrot Project.

Straus said anyone interested in learning more about the variety of birds in San Diego should go on a San Diego Audubon Society bird walk. Throughout the month experts guide guests through local areas around the county like Santee Lake and La Jolla Shores to observe birds.

For more information about the walks, visit www.sandiegoaudubon.org.

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