A Guide to The Feral Parrots of the US (2022)

“Wait, was that a parrot?”

I’m looking out of my hotel room window in downtown Los Angeles, and I swear I just saw a parrot in the palm trees across the highway. Either that, or the 17+ hours of jetlag are causing me to hallucinate.

But the next day, now well rested, I see them again — a flash of green and gold in the hazy sun. Later, both my colleague and my Sibley bird guide confirmed that I had indeed seen a Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, one of several that have established breeding colonies amid the skyscrapers and urban sprawl of LA.

As some birders and sharp-eyed observers may already know, the US is home to dozens of feral parrot species. Using data from eBird and the Christmas Bird Count, scientists recently tallied 56 different parrot species sighted in 43 states, 25 of which are now breeding in the wild across 23 different states.

So how did these wayward parrots get here?

Native Parrots, Lost & Found

The United States once had two endemic parrot species, the Carolina Parakeet and the Thick-billed Parrot. Once found in the east and midwest, Carolina Parakeets went extinct in 1918, likely due to widespread deforestation and direct hunting. (The last captive bird, named Incas, lived and died in the same cage as Martha, the famed last Passenger Pigeon.)

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The Thick-billed Parrot, though not extinct, is now only found in Mexico. The birds once ranged into Arizona and New Mexico, but a combination of heavy shooting, logging, and development drove the species back across the Mexican border. The bird was last seen in the US in the Chiricahua Mountains in the late 1930s, and reintroduction attempts in the 1980s and 1990s were unsuccessful.

So went the country’s two native parrot species — or so we thought. The Green Parakeet and the Red-crowned Parrot could also be native to the US, as their range occasionally extends into southern Texas. (Whether or not they are native, and if they warrant protection as endangered species, is controversial.)Either way, both birds are also established ferals elsewhere in the country.

Today, the vast majority of parrots sighted in the US are non-natives. Birds are either escaped pets, creating one-off sightings, or they are the descendants of pets that have now established permanent breeding colonies.

Take the Monk Parakeet: a squat, lime green bird native to South America. In the 1950s and 60s, tens of thousands of Monk Parakeets were imported to the US as pets. Inevitably, some escaped or were set free when their owners tired of a loud, messy, demanding, long-lived pet. Now 70 years later, the Monk Parakeet is the most abundant feral parrot in the country.

A Guide to The Feral Parrots of the US (1)

Tips for Identifying Feral Parrots

First, the good news: It’s usually pretty easy to tell when you’ve spotted a parrot, because there aren’t any common native birds to confuse them with. And now the bad news: Sorting out exactly which parrot species you’ve seen isn’t always easy. Here are our tips for making your ID:

Get a good bird guide: We recommend the Sibley (second edition) for it’s superb illustrations of most of the common feral parrot species.

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Learn what to pay attention to: Most parrot sightings are little more than a flash of quick-beating green wings, maybe a splash of red, and some squawking. You know you’ve seen a parrot, but that’s about it. Noting a few quick details during flyovers can help you narrow down to a species.

First, pay attention to color. Most of the feral species in the US are green. But many also have blue, yellow, or red coloration on their bodies. Details like a red forehead, blue under the wings, or yellow back will be critical to narrowing down your options.

Second, pay attention to shape. How long are the wings? Short and wide or long and tapered? And what is the ratio of the bird’s tail length to body? Does it have a short tail, or an elongated shape with long tail feathers?

And lastly, if you can, try to note the size (chunky or dainty) and color (light or dark) of the bill.

Remember that parrots are hard: Don’t get discouraged. Parrot flyovers can reduce even experienced birders (and yours truly) to swear-filled rants of frustration.

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The Top Three Feral Parrots

Just three species — Monk Parakeet, Red-Crowned Parrot, and Nanday Parakeet — make up 61 percent of all sightings reported on eBird and CBC over the last 15 years. If you study these three species using our guide below, you’ll be in a good position to identify the most likely candidates, or rule them out if you find something more unusual.

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Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)

I’d wager that this chunky green bird is the most commonly sighted feral parrot in the US, because they’ve established conspicuous breeding populations in at least 21 states, including colonies in several major US cities. Note the green body and tail, blue wing-tips, white chest and chin, and orange bill.

Another hint: Look for a nest. Most parrots are cavity nesters, laying eggs in hollow tree limbs and trunks. But the Monk Parakeet is the exception. This species builds an elaborate, tangled stick nest accessed by a small tunnel. Many pairs share the same nest, which can look like a mini beaver dam in the sky. So if you see a small, green bird popping and out of a stick nest, then you can be reasonably sure it’s a Monk Parakeet.

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Red-crowned Parrot (Amazona viridigenalis)

Also known as the Red-crowned Amazon. Whether or not this species counts as “native” depends on who you talk to. Some say that the populations in the Rio Grande Valley are the product of both escapee pets and wild birds, others disagree. Complicating matters is the question of whether or not the bird deserves protection as an endangered species.

Red-crowned Parrots are found elsewhere in the US, with breeding populations descended from escapee pets in greater Texas, California, and Florida. Note the green body, dark wingtips, light beak, dusky blue-grey nape, and bright red forehead. (Other species also have red-and-green faces, so look closely.)

This species is now endangered in its native range, thanks to habitat destruction for agricultural and ranching uses, as well as illegal trapping for the pet trade. Scientists thnk it’s possible that there are now more feral Red-crowned Parrots in the US than there are in their original habitats in Mexico.

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Nanday Parakeet (Aratinga nenday)

Also known as the Black-hooded Parakeet, Nandays are native to the wetlands of the Pantanal region in central South America. Look for a yellow-green body and long tail, blue-black wings, and a distinctive dark head and bill. If you look closely, they also have a little bracelet of red feathers the bottom of each leg.

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In the US, Nandays are found throughout central and southern Florida, and in California’s greater Los Angeles and Orange County regions. The species is occasionally sighted in Arizona and Texas.

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Feral Parrot Hotspots

Another great way to narrow down a mystery parrot sighting is by location. Together, three states — Florida, Texas, and California — support populations of all 25 species of breeding parrots in the USA. And several other major cities have well-established populations of one or more species.

Here are some common places to spot established breeding colonies of feral parrots. (And if you don’t live or bird in one of these places, we recommend using eBird to see which feral parrots are reported in your area.)

Oh, Florida! A Feral Parrot Paradise

Florida is well known as a veritable wonderland of invasive and non-native species, from the pythons lurking in the Everglades to iguanas stalking suburban streets. The same holds true for parrots.

Most established populations are found in the southern end of the peninsula, and birders have sighted more than 35 species in Miami-Dade county alone. Miami is particularly famous for its resident flock of more than 20 Blue-and-gold Macaws, which have lived there for more than 30 years. Unfortunately, this population is declining as the birds, which lack any legal protection, are being legally poached for the pet trade.

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California Parrot Dreaming:

San Francisco’s Red-masked Parakeets were once the most famous parrots in the country. In 2003, an award-winning documentary — “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” — followed a homeless musician and his relationship with the neighborhood flock of feral parrots. More than 15 years later the birds are still there, but many in the 300-strong flock are being sickened or by killed rat poison set out to control the city’s rodents.

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Feral parrots are common in California’s other major cities. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego all have populations of Red-masked Parakeets, Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, Blue-crowned Parakeets, Rose-ringed Parakeets, among others.

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Coast-to-Coast Urban Parroting

Outside of Florida and California, many cities have well-documented populations of feral parrots. You can find Monk Parakeet colonies in Brooklyn (check out Greenwood Cemetery), Boston, Houston, Austin, Dallas, Chicago, and New Orleans, among others. In Phoenix, look for Rosy-faced Lovebirds. And amidst a long list of non-native birds in Hawaii, you can find Red-crowned Parrots on Oahu and Mitred Parakeets in Maui.

FAQs

What do green parrots in Los Angeles eat? ›

Experience La Jolla

Parrots around San Diego will eat non-native fruit and flowering trees. They frequently choose to nest in the lush tops of Canary Island date palms. Instead of building their nests, parrots will seek out holes made in trees by other animals.

How did parrots get to California? ›

The wild parrots flying free in Southern California today are descendants of wild-caught parrots who were imported into the United States before importation was banned and somehow either escaped or were released intentionally.

Are there any parrots native to California? ›

California Parrot Dreaming:

Feral parrots are common in California's other major cities. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego all have populations of Red-masked Parakeets, Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, Blue-crowned Parakeets, Rose-ringed Parakeets, among others.

Why are there so many parrots in Southern California? ›

All of the wild parrots in San Diego are birds or descendants of birds brought to the area by people, according to Sarah Mansfield with SoCal Parrot, though some have speculated they migrated from Mexico. Mansfield added the birds weren't released in the area just once.

What food attracts parrots? ›

Apples, bananas, figs, berries, and nectarines all make tasty treats for a parrot. Just make sure to chop them up into bite sized pieces for smaller birds and remove seeds or pits before leaving them out.

How do you attract rare birds? ›

Attracting Birds
  1. Provide water year-round. A simple birdbath is a great start. ...
  2. Install native plants. ...
  3. Eliminate insecticides in your yard. ...
  4. Keep dead trees. ...
  5. Put out nesting boxes. ...
  6. Build a brush pile in a corner of your yard. ...
  7. Offer food in feeders. ...
  8. Remove invasive plants from your wildlife habitat.

Are there still parrots in San Francisco? ›

There could be up to 400 parrots living in San Francisco's wild flock today; perching on downtown windowsills, munching on juniper berries, and making their iconic presence known with a cacophony of frantic squawks. Eight of the famous birds are now living in Sarah Lemarié's San Mateo home.

Why are there so many parrots in LA? ›

Wild parrots were first spotted in the city in the 1960s, according to the Havasi Wilderness Foundation, possibly thanks to a 1961 Bel Air brush fire, when it's believed many bird-owners released yellow-headed parrots so they could escape the flames.

How long do feral parrots live? ›

Average Lifespan of Parrots
African Gray Parrots40 to 60 years, or more
Lovebirds10 to 15 years
Macaws30 to 50 years, or more, depending on the species
Pigeons15 years (in the wild it is only about 5 years)
Senegal ParrotsUp to 50 years (in the wild it is only about 25 years)
12 more rows
Mar 14, 2022

What states have wild parrots? ›

Florida, California, and Texas took the lead in total parrot sightings; all 25 breeding species occur in these subtropical states. The birds nest in trees with large cavities such as palms, eucalyptus, and oak trees, and the balmy weather is ideal for growing fruit trees and ornamental flowers in backyards and parks.

Are there wild parrots in Texas? ›

A new study puts Texas at No. 3 among the states with the most sightings in the wild of these one-time exotic pets. From 2002 to 2016, bird watchers recorded 23,992 sightings of parrots in the outdoors in Texas, according to the study, recently published in the Journal of Ornithology.

Are there wild parrots in Arizona? ›

Wild parrots can be spotted in Phoenix neighborhoods

The Valley is a long way from the tropics, and yet wild parrots can be spotted in neighborhoods across metro Phoenix. Rosy-faced lovebirds have been spreading for years. They're easily the most colorful flying creatures in the desert.

How do you scare a wild parrot? ›

Things to scare birds away

Flags that move in the wind are the cheapest, most effective ways to scare birds. Predator statues such as lifelike scarecrows, owls, coyotes, snakes or cats that can be moved around every few days. Shiny objects such as old CDs, foil pans or silver reflective tape.

Can you catch wild parrots in Florida? ›

Unfortunately, the only parrot native to Florida is now extinct, so all species found there today have been accidentally introduced and more often than not from the pet trade. Their populations are naturalized, but are quite small and not a lot is known about them.

Are there any parrots native to North America? ›

The handsome red-and-green Thick-billed Parrot is the only surviving parrot species native to North America. (The other, the Carolina Parakeet, is long extinct.)

Are wild parrots friendly? ›

Many parrots are very affectionate, even cuddly with trusted people, and require a lot of attention from their owners constantly. Some species have a tendency to bond to one or two people, and dislike strangers, unless they are regularly and consistently handled by different people.

Can parrots eat banana? ›

Many fruits are not only safe but encouraged in a parrot's daily diet. Fresh fruit offers birds many nutritional benefits. Safe fruits that are also often included in parrot pellet mixes according to Avian Web are apple, apricot, banana, cranberry, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, peach, pear and pineapple.

How do you call a wild parrot? ›

Calling All Birds - Three Simple Ways - YouTube

What color are birds attracted to? ›

Favorite Colors

Birds are attracted to the color red, according to a Chicago zoo authority. Birds protect their nests by flashing red and use the color to attract mates. Adding a touch of red to your feeder will attract more birds, though some seed-eating birds prefer blue or silver feeders.

Do birds like honey? ›

Honey. Honey is a natural sweetener and can be healthy for humans, but it is not good for birds. Even the best quality, organic honey can harbor bacteria and grow mold that can be fatal to backyard birds.

What birdseed attracts the most birds? ›

sunflower

What do the parrots of SF eat? ›

The parrots eat a variety of foods, including juniper berries, pine nuts, blackberries, apples, loquats, strawberry guavas, pears, cotoneaster berries, English hawthorne, and flower blossoms. Feeding any wild birds, including these parrots, is illegal in San Francisco.

How did parrots get to San Francisco? ›

The short answer to the question of what brought the parrots to Telegraph Hill is the exotic pet trade. Nobody knows who released them or why, but many of the original birds arrived with little bracelets on their legs, indicating they were captured in the wild and came to the U.S. through quarantine stations.

Where are the parrots of Telegraph Hill now? ›

Today, the parrots of Telegraph Hill can be spotted all over the city, and have been spotted as far south as Brisbane. Winding down the hill are the Filbert steps, and residents on both sides of the staircase have wonderful gardens with fragrant flowers.

What is a group of 100 parrots called? ›

What is a group of parrots called? A group of parrots is called a "pandemonium."

How did the parrots get in Pasadena? ›

Many theories surround the mystery of how the parrots landed in Pasadena and claimed the area as their home. A widely accepted story is that they were part of the stock that were set free for their survival from the large pet emporium at Simpson's Garden Town on East Colorado Boulevard, which burned down in 1959.

Where did the parrots in Long Beach come from? ›

Our Long Beach resident parrots seem to be Mitred Parakeet's that are native to Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. They started being reported on in Long Beach as early as the 1980s and their population is growing.

How old is the oldest parrot? ›

Poncho. What is this? Most birds of Poncho's breed live to be around 50 or 60, though some can reach 80 years of age with a good, healthy diet. Poncho, however, is 92, and is officially the world's oldest parrot according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

How smart is a parrot? ›

While parrots have the distinction of being able to mimic human speech, studies with the grey parrot have shown that some are able to associate words with their meanings and form simple sentences (see Alex). Parrots and the corvid family of crows, ravens, and jays are considered the most intelligent of birds.

Can parrots live to be 300? ›

A specimen usually lives between 15 and 20 years, but some specimens have lived up to 30 years. A parrot has a very long life expectancy, which places a great responsibility on its keepers.

Do wild parrots talk? ›

Why parrots can talk like humans - YouTube

Can escaped parrots survive? ›

But wild parrots are difficult to tame, so some either managed to escape or were intentionally released by frustrated owners. Some of these liberated parrots survived and even thrived, particularly in urban areas where food was plentiful and wild predators were relatively few.

How do you attract wild parrots in Florida? ›

To attract them to your yard, hang fruit and other fresh treats using natural twines. Add a waterer. Like other birds, parrots and parakeets need water, as well as food. Place a waterer or bird bath in your yard close to feeding stations so they can stop in for refreshments as needed.

Where did the parrots in Austin come from? ›

Monk parakeets may be native to the subtropics of South America, but over the last 40 years, they've found a home in Austin. Although their exact origin is disputed, it's accepted that in the early 1970s, parakeets were either released in the Zilker area or escaped their cages.

Is there such a thing as a green bird? ›

These neon green parrots are among the most popular pets in the world. Budgies, as they're commonly known, began to spread across the planet in 1840, when naturalist John Gould introduced the bird to England from its native Australia.

Can parakeets survive in the wild in Texas? ›

Additional sightings come from the Panhandle as well as East and South Texas. Whether they were set free or escaped, parakeets in Texas do seem to thrive, despite cold winter weather. (They also live in Chicago, so Dallas weather isn't a problem.)

Why are there green parrots in Los Angeles? ›

Wild parrots were first spotted in the city in the 1960s, according to the Havasi Wilderness Foundation, possibly thanks to a 1961 Bel Air brush fire, when it's believed many bird-owners released yellow-headed parrots so they could escape the flames.

What kind of parrots are in LA? ›

Red-crowned parrots established sizable wild populations in Florida and California. In the Los Angeles area, there are about 2,000 to 3,000 individuals, a number that could at this point rival or exceed that of the remaining wild population in Mexico.

Why are there parrots in Santa Monica? ›

Now called “California wild parrots,” the burgeoning bird population has gone native. Their ancestors were trapped in the tropical forests of South America and Africa and sold here as pets before an importation ban went into effect in the 1980s – and illegally afterward.

Where did the parrots in Redondo Beach come from? ›

According to local lore, the parrots all come from a few contraband birdies once confiscated by customs officials at LAX.

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