Parrot Project of Bakersfield

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Parrot Project of Bakersfield

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Rose-ringed Parakeet taxonomy

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Photos, text and drawings by Alison Sheehey Nature Ali

No rights assigned, all rights reserved.

Roseringed Parakeet  1999-2005 Nature Ali

Wild Rose-ringed Parakeets

Psittacula krameri

Original research by Alison Sheehey, Nature Alley and Barbara Mansfield, Kern Audubon Society

Background image original drawing by Alison Sheehey 

1998-2014
. All rights reserved.

INTRODUCTION

My research shows the largest North American population of naturalized Rose-ringed Parakeets, Psittacula krameri, lives in Bakersfield, California. This population achieved its size through reproductive recruitment with supplemental releases of captive individuals since the initial pioneers in 1977. In August 2001, myself, Deborah Jackson, and Dianna Morales counted 715 individuals, but the number declined thereafter as first year bird mortality is relatively high. We estimate the number of wild individuals is currently stable at slightly more than 500 individuals and will grow again after nesting season 2002. When we first began this research in 1998, the greatest count was 187 individuals. (Ed. note - 2012 update: the number of parakeets at its greatest count at the main roost site (there are now several throughout Bakersfield) was over 1800 in December 2011. I would estimate the number of individual birds to be well over 3000 in the Greater Bakersfield area as they are now found throughout the town wherever mature trees grow).

Our research on worldwide naturalized distributions of P. krameri shows extensive but local populations. The species is non-migratory but has daily foraging migration through their territory. Most foraging flocks vary in size depending on season. All birds utilize common nocturnal roosts. This is a common characteristic of psittacids. Significant populations of this species exist locally around London, UK (2000-3000) and Brussels, Belgium (3000+). The species is widespread but local throughout Europe, and Asia. No colonization has been reported in Australia, Antarctica, or South America. Published journal articles discuss insignificant populations in the Virgin Islands and another in Venezuela. These sightings are significant for understanding pioneering flocks.

North American colonizations are widespread but some are poorly documented. The most populated area beyond Bakersfield is in Naples Florida, where recent communication with Susan Epps reveals a population of +-100 individuals. Several communities in Florida report smaller populations. Other small naturalized populations in the United States are found in Metarie, LA, San Antonio, TX, Honolulu, HI, and Malibu, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Anaheim, and Pasadena; CA.

Worldwide, all colonizing flocks are initially the product of deliberate or accidental releases of breeding pairs. As highly vocal and communal species, I predict that naturalizing psittacids take very little time finding others of their own species within any given area once released to the wild. One additional factor supporting this observation is the similar habitat niche needed for most parrot species.

BACKGROUND

I first observed this species in 1987 at Hart Park in northeast Bakersfield. Although area birders and residents have been aware of this flock for many years, there has been no effort to record or report this population. This is not uncommon as exotic species are not generally treated as participating members of an ecological community until well after their initial introduction. This research project began a result of a discussion, in September 1998, on the status of introduced psittacids in California with Kimball L. Garrett, Ornithology Collections Manager, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 

NATURAL DISTRIBUTION

Four subspecies are known:. P. k. borealis is native to India (north of latitude 20N), west Pakistan, Nepal, and central Burma, P. k. krameri is native to Africa - Guinea, Senegal, southern Mauritania, western Uganda, and southern Sudan, P. k. parvirostris is native to northwest Somalia, northern Ethiopia, and Sudan, and P. k. manillensis is native to India (south of latitude 20N), Ceylon, and the island of Rameswaram (Forshaw, 1978.) 

DESCRIPTION

This species is unmistakable with light green plumage, long tail, and raucous, repetitive "kee ep" call. The average length is 16 inches. Adult males have the "rose-ring". The chin of the adult male is black with layers of black, turquoise, and rose on a collar that thins below the auriculars. The rose-ring continues to the nape of the neck. The nape on the male has a turquoise blue wash over the light green base feathers. It takes between 18-32 months for the males to develop the rose-ring. Juveniles and females lack neck and chin markings. The adult female has a faint emerald green collar that is difficult to discern in the field.  The tail is long and thin with a blue central tail feather. The outer tail feathers are medium green washed with blue. The tail of females and juveniles is slightly shorter than that of the male.  The underside of the tail and wings are canary yellow.

BAKERSFIELD ENVIRONMENT

Bakersfield is a suburban/rural city extending 111 square miles, 492 ft. above sea level in the Southern San Joaquin Valley of California. Greater Bakersfield occupies an area of 224 sq. miles. The climate of the southern San Joaquin Valley is described as inland Mediterranean-type with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Bakersfield lies just north of latitude 35 20' N. The now ephemeral Kern River flows through the northern sector of the city with unincorporated urban communities occupying much of the land north of the river.

Bakersfield and the surrounding communities are home to many naturalized species of animals. The original landscape has been altered with the accidental and deliberate introduction of animals, plants, and insects. The area was originally a boggy delta for the largest freshwater marsh and lake system west of the Mississippi River. It was surrounded by upland scrub habitat.

Naturalized wildlife include: Bullfrog (Lithobates (Rana) catesbeiana), Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana), Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger), House Mouse (Mus musculus), Black Rat (Rattus rattus), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Feral Cat (Felis catus), Wild Pig (Sus scrofa), Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), Rock Pigeon (Columba livia), Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis), European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), and House Sparrow (Passer domesticus). (These underlined words lead to another of my research projects - Introduced Species of Kern County: a Photo Series).

Other individual members of the parrot family observed in Bakersfield but not reproducing include: Budgerigar, Red-crowned Parrot, Meyer's Parrot, Senegal Parrot, Peach-faced Parakeet and Mitred Parakeet.

BAKERSFIELD POPULATION

The current population in Bakersfield appears to have began as a result of the loss of the Happy Bird Aviary roof. A hurricane force windstorm occurred on December 20, 1977 in the southern San Joaquin Valley, destroying the aviary, and leading to the release of multiple species of cage-bred birds. Two breeding pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets were among the birds lost by the owner. I have documented an average of one escape from pet and/or aviary owners each year since 1985 (some years no birds were recorded while some years up to six were reported to have escaped). Rose-ringed Parakeets are long-lived averaging 20 year life-spans. If the population did not grow each year, then the species could not be determined to be naturalized. I have observed successful fledging each year since beginning my research and documented an increase, leading to the conclusion that the population is growing mainly due to reproductive recruitment (wild hatching).

Anecdotal reports of this species living within the wild go back to the early 20th century. No specimens or ornithological field investigation show any data backing up these reports. I believe some of these reports may actually be different species such as Budgerigars or Monk Parakeets. Monk Parakeets were deemed to great a threat to agriculture and were banned from California aviculture in the late 1960's.

The common Rose-ringed Parakeet nocturnal roost site is found at the corner of Union and California Avenues. The parakeets utilize the Mexican Fan Palms exclusively for night roosting. Occupying the roost only at night, the birds arrive each evening between 1/2 to 1 hour before sunset and leave no later than 1 hour after sunrise each morning. During nesting season the nocturnal roost is utilized only by unpaired individuals and 2nd year juveniles.

Nests are distributed widely but locally throughout the city. Nesting flocks appear to be no greater than 60 individuals. There are nesting flocks in Beale, Hart, Jastro Parks, along the Kern River, in Alta Vista/La Cresta, and Casa Loma. The birds are exclusively cavity nesters. They must have access to mature trees with cavities excavated by other species. They do expand the cavity but do not place any nesting material besides the wood chips that may already be in the cavity. This species is reported to lay up to 5 eggs but I have seen no more than two nestlings at any site. I first documented nesting on May 18, 1999. See Parrot Photos for a picture of this nestling.

CONCLUSION

My assessment confirms that Rose-ringed Parakeets have successfully naturalized the Bakersfield area and they are the largest known population in North America. 

If you have information on current evening roosts, nesting activity, foraging activity, or damage these birds do, please E-mail. Any historical information or behavioral information you can provide is really appreciated. I will confirm all sighting information as time allows.

This research project continues if you have any information on the status of naturalized Rose-ringed Parakeets in Kern County.  If you have seen any wild parrots in Kern County please email me (Alison Sheehey) right away E-mail or call the number at the bottom of the page.  I could not have accomplished or learned as much about these birds without the fantastic help from Barbara Mansfield. Thank you Barbara!!!

Contributors to project  - Shirley Bristow, Darryl Coston, Lloyd Fry, Irene Heath, Kim Herndon, Karen Mabb, Barbara Mansfield, Jaymz Mansfield, LaDona Matthews, Rich Owen, Karen Powers, Carol Raupp, Rodney, Billie Smith, Arthur Unger, Lois Watson, Ted Weinheimer, Elaine White, and John Wilson and many others (I have been remiss in keeping up this section of the list, but all of your contribution's have been invaluable and I thank all of you for helping.

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Nature Alley is dedicated to protecting natural communities wherever they exist. She is involved in many scientific and educational programs, promoting environmental appreciation and ethics.

This narrative, logo, and all photos are provided as a courtesy. All information contained herein is a result of extensive field research and literature investigations. It is written by and copyrighted to Alison Sheehey of Nature Alley. The information contained herein may not be reproduced or copied without express written permission. Please contact me with requests and inquiries E-mail. Thank you.


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Copyright 1998-2014
by Nature Ali. All rights reserved.