Home & Garden Columns

Wild Neighbors: Tales of the Lone Parrot

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday July 13, 2010 - 10:08:00 AM

I got a handful of interesting responses to a column earlier this year about what I believed to be the last survivor of the wild parrots of Berkeley, a species known to the pet trade as cherry-headed conures and to ornithologists as red-masked parakeets. One writer bridges a gap in the story regarding the fate of the penultimate parrot. Another suggests that there may be another flock out there. 

Here’s Dennis Markham: 

“I saw your article in the Daily Planet. I counted up to five parrots at one time since living near Ninth & Delaware since 1992. Up until a couple of years ago, there were three parrots. One of the parrots died of an unknown disease according to a neighbor on Ninth who used to watch after them. 

“Last fall after the big unexpected rainstorm (September/October?), we found one of the two remaining walking on the sidewalk and unable to fly, its beak looking injured. We took it to the Contra Costa pet emergency, which was the only place that would take it after normal business hours. After some frustrating inquiries as to the status of the bird, I was told that one of the vets lived in West Berkeley and knew where the parrot had come from. 

“After the parrot recovered, the vet returned the bird to the neighborhood. Once again there were two parrots, until about a month later when one disappeared. I had noticed that the neighborhood ravens had been chasing both parrots for several weeks. I believe they weakened the injured one so much that it eventually died. I cringe every time I see the single parrot in the neighborhood. It seems that it is looking for its mate/family.” 

That account seems pretty definitive. Other readers had mentioned the parrots being harassed by corvids, mainly crows. 

One parrot was still being observed as recently as May, when I received the following from Rommel Batu: 

“I came across your articles when Googling Conures in Berkeley. Seems like you've been following these guys around for awhile. We saw Wild Parrots on Telegraph Hill and ever since, we are always on the lookout for those birds when we are around that area. 

“So one morning I go to work last week and I park my car on Camelia at 5th street near Gilman like usual. I get out of the car and I hear the bird, he's not really calling to anyone. I look up and I spot him on some telephone wires, he's just preening himself and making a sort of giggling sound. I took out my phone and I snapped a photo of him to show my girlfriend, otherwise she would never believe me. I watched him for about five minutes and went on my way. 

“I never thought I would see him again, but yesterday I was going to my car in the afternoon and I could hear him (or her). I didn't see it but I did hear it. Maybe it lives close by? It’s kind of industrial, I couldn't imagine that a parrot would want to live around that area...” 

But not long before, Bill Lanphier had reported a multiple-parrot sighting:  

“A group of maybe a dozen flying west to east, in the 500 block of Talbot, Albany, late afternoon” on April 13. “I was looking straight up at them and, because of the direct backlighting, I couldn't pick out much. But I'm 80% sure they were green and about the right size for, what I think is called, green conures (like most of the birds I recall seeing in the Telegraph hill documentary). They consistently stayed in relatively tight formation (also as I recall from the documentary).” 

So what’s going on here? Observer error is always possible; remember the ivory-billed woodpecker fiasco. But if Mr. Lanphier wasn’t seeing parrots of some kind, what were they? Do the Telegraph Hill parrots cross the Bay on occasion? Has there been a recent mass parrot escape in Albany? I would welcome any additional observations.