By Marcia Wolfe, Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
Some years ago, I was sitting in my car at a curbside parking spot just east of Union Avenue waiting for a friend. It was a warm evening, and I had the window down when I heard the loud screeching sounds, mixed in with the flapping and fluttering of hundreds of pairs of wings. I couldn’t see what it was, but I heard a cacophony of sounds. The rooftops obscured the horizon to the east. Suddenly, a large flock of what appeared to be several hundred – or more – large green birds began emerging from behind the roofs of several homes to the east, all headed in my direction. Individual birds started peeling off the edges of the huge flock and they swooped up in various directions into the tops of the large trees along the street and alley, apparently to roost for the night. What amazing sounds and sights!
They looked like huge green parakeets! Wild parakeets in California? What? I had no idea; so, I had to research them. First, I had to figure out what they were. Almost all of them were bright green of varying shades, with a bright orange bill and orange eyes surrounding a black pupil. The males have a dark narrow ring around their necks with a skinny tripe of orange on the top (dorsal) side. As the neck ring circles the neck and comes up to the chin, it widens into a black band that rises beneath the beak. It almost looks like a tiny bib. The females do not have this neck ring and are not as dark and bright in color. They are large and can range up to 16 inches or more in length, partly because of their very long and narrow tails. I am not sure where the name “rose ring” came from, as there is no rose or pink color on them anywhere; it’s orange and orange-red on the back of the neck, depending upon the bird. They also can have a mutation causing them to be all blue, though I have not seen any of those here.
Here they are called the rose-ringed parakeet, and are known as the ring-necked parakeet, although they really are parrots. They originated from two remote disjunct native habitats in southern Asia, largely India, and from a narrow linear east-west band across the middle of Africa.
Mainly because of their popularity as pets, escaped birds have established populations in numerous cities in the world, including about ten European countries. . These escaped birds fall into four different subspecies: two from Africa and two from Asia. They are so valuable as pets that the populations in India have been reduced by people collecting and trapping them to sell.
Interestingly, where the rose-ringed parakeets have been introduced, they have become widespread, but mostly in cities and urban developments. But they appear to be quite adaptable living in a wide variety of habitats and climates. They are not found in most natural habitats outside their original ranges in southern Asia and Africa. I’ve heard more than one story about how they came to be here in Bakersfield, which has one of three known populations in the United States, in addition to Florida and Hawaii. Although I read that there are three populations, while talking about them with a friend who lives in Mesa, Arizona, she told me they were down there too. So, they seem to continue the invasion.
How did this happen here? One story was that in 1977, a large windstorm in Bakersfield blew down an outdoor aviary that contained mated pairs which escaped. Another story was that a pet store went out of business and they simply let all their birds loose. My friend in Arizona said she heard that people who had them as pets and got tired of them just let them go. They live up to 20-30 years or more, so if you want to get one, plan on a long relationship. Regardless, they are here and seem quite successful with 3-4 large populations near the Kern County Museum, Hart Park, and other places along the Kern River and near Union Avenue. They nest in cavities in trees, so it is common to find local flocks along the Kern River and in backyards, where there may be lots of large trees with cavities. They also may use vertical nest boxes that are taller than wide. This would be 12” wide, 12” deep, and 18” high, in case you wanted to invite a wild pair into your own yard.
They bond well with people, as determined by those who have had them as pets. Commonly, they bond more or less with an entire family, rather than a single individual. They are probably one of the best talking parakeets in existence, because they can rapidly learn to imitate people talking. Their propensity to bond with people may well explain why they inhabit largely urban and densely populated areas. London, England has one of the largest urban populations of over 30,000 parakeets. Of course, in urban areas there also may be fewer predators that go after these relatively large birds. However, hawks, falcons, large owls, and similar birds do forage on them. We do have those voracious predatory birds here in Bakersfield as well.
The rose-ringed parakeet eats fruits, berries, nuts, and other types of herbaceous forage. So, they do well in an urban environment where there are parks and lots of yards with a variety of fruits, nuts, and vegetation. However, they also eat grains. If a large population developed where grains are grown, harvested, and bagged, they could be an annoyance to. They even will try to pick grain out of stacked burlap bags. Or if they discovered the nut orchards, they likely would eat nuts either off the trees or on the ground. Besides the potential to forage on agricultural crops, of which I have found no local reports, they also can carry certain avian diseases that can be transmitted to native wild birds. The world’s bird numbers have declined by 30 billion in the last 50 years. This is unfortunate as we need our birds.
The world is constantly changing since the beginning of recorded time. We don’t even know with certainty what the dominant native rangeland grass habitats were across the valley floor since they were replaced by non-native annual grasses from Europe (probably brought in by the cattle and sheep in the early 1700s). We have numerous invasive forb species and numerous invasive insects, including the new “murder hornet” and others. Among birds, we have the invasive exotic pigeon and starling. It appears the rose-ringed parakeet is the most recent invasive bird in this area, and now the world continues to change with the addition of the invasive Covid-19 virus.