Pasadena Star News
Monday, August 23, 1999
By Andrew Bridges, Staff Writer
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Now armed with a $3,500 grant from a Northern California businessman. Mabb hopes to now learn more about the parrots, working first on direct observations of mixed pairs and, eventually, on DNA sampling of individual birds.  The project, which should be completed by January, could lead to a refined definition of the species. Similar DNA work has gone on with Baltimore and Bullock's orioles, which for a time were lumped together as the Northern Oriole but are once again considered distinct species.

For now, Mabb, 27, and Melanie Stalder, 26, a Cal Poly graduate student, spend several days a week spying on the birds, whose loud squawking make them the bane of many homeowners.  They also pick up feathers and the occasional dead bird, courtesy of the Temple City animal control department for eventual DNA testing.

The study comes on the heels of an informal five-year study characterizing Los Angeles' parrot population. "Initially, we tried to find out what is where--the established populations, habitats, numbers,"  said Kimball Garrett, ornithology collections manager for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Country, which is overseeing the study. 

 

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Staff photo by Walt Mancini
Melanie Stalder, far left, a Cal-Poly Pomona student, is conducting research on parrots. Karen Mabb, an ornithologist, has received a grant to study two feral parrot species common to the San Gabriel Valley.

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Having got that kind of baseline information, one of the things we are interested in (is that) we have two species that normally occupy different geographic ranges and now we have them both living in Southern California in a sort of artificial situation.  We're interested in how these species treat each other, if they compete,  if they crossbreed. It's going to take a lot of watching to figure out what they're doing"

Although urban legends abound about the parrots' origin--the most famous story being of the East Pasadena pet shop owner who released 50 to 60 rather than have them perish in a 1959 fire--what is clear is the birds are flourishing.

No longer feral, which would imply they had had previously been domesticated, the wild, breeding birds have established naturalized populations, ornithologists said. Conservative counts estimate that 1,000 red-crowned parrots live in the region, although Mabb thinks that many alone live around Live Oak Park in Temple City. Mabb and Stalder have found evidence of the birds' presence from the Pacific coast to far east as Glendora, where they heard mockingbirds imitating the parrots' distinctive uk-uk-uk-uk call.

Late one recent afternoon, the two staked out the small Temple City Park, dotted with the eucalyptus, silver maple and liquidambar trees parrots seems to favor. The fertile swath of territory between the Foothill (210) and San Bernardino (10) freeways attracts inordinately large numbers of the birds, possibly because of the variety of mature trees laden with fruit and nuts year-round and the water-filled washes that pour out of the San Gabriel Mountains, Mabb said.

As dusk fell, the birds became active, squawking as they flew from roost to roost.

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