Have You Seen "Canary-winged Parakeets" in Los Angeles?

December 29, 2015

Yellow-chevroned Parakeets feeding on dates in a date palm. Photo by Kimball Garrett. Hearing a group of screeching Yellow-chevroned Parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri) flying over the NHMLA café patio at lunchtime is hardly unusual.  This native of South America thrives in much of the Los Angeles region, including Exposition Park where they especially favor the seeds of the floss-silk trees that are widely planted in the area.  But on Tuesday, October 27, a group of us, including myself (Ornithology Collections Manager Kimball Garrett) and Herpetology Curator Greg Pauly, noticed that two of the birds in a small flock overhead were distinctly different, showing large white patches on the inner half of the wings.  These were White-winged Parakeets (Brotogeris versicolurus) — close relatives of the Yellow-chevroned.  In fact the two were formerly treated as a single, variable species called the “Canary-winged Parakeet”, with Yellow-chevroneds hailing from central Amazonia and White-wingeds from the southern Amazon basin. Two White-winged Parakeets were foraging alongside Yellow-chevroned Parakeets in the floss-silk trees next to the NHMLA Car Park on December 15, 2015. On the left, notice the white feathering behind the yellow wing patch – this white is conspicuous in flight as a large white triangular patch. On the right, notice the grayish color between the eye and the bill (this area is bright green in the Yellow-chevroned Parakeet). Photos by Kimball Garrett. White-winged Parakeets were established in small numbers in the Los Angeles area — especially around San Pedro and the Palos Verdes Peninsula — in the 1970s, and small numbers continued to be reported into the 1990s.  But Yellow-chevroned Parakeet numbers began to boom in the Los Angeles Region in the 1980s (probably reflecting a changing source of imported birds), and for the past 30 years it has been the widespread and common member of this species pair in this area. We don’t know if the decline in White-wingeds was related to the establishment and proliferation of Yellow-chevroneds. Specimens from the NHMLA collection show the differences between White-winged parakeets (above) and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets (below). Photo by Kimball Garrett.   Recent sightings of White-winged Parakeets in Exposition Park (I saw another flock of 6 on September 18) suggest that small populations still survive in the area, or perhaps that there have been recent instances of birds escaping or being released.  In any case, having these two closely-related but normally allopatric (non-overlapping ranges) species together in Southern California creates an interesting ecological experiment that will surely receive ongoing study. Your sightings of both species — uploaded to iNaturalist or eBird  (alternatively you can e-mail us your observations nature@nhm.org, or tag them #natureinLA on social media)— will help us track their ever-changing fates. Yellow-chevroned Parakeet feeding at a seed pod of one of the floss-silk trees on the NHMLA grounds. Photo by Kimball Garrett.   Yelow-chevroned Parakeets can be seen most of the year in Exposition Park — look especially in the large floss-silk trees on the north side of the car park (see photo above).  Another great place to find them is Echo Park, with noisy flocks seemingly always present around the north side of the lake. Other prime sites include the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, Legg Lake in South El Monte, and the Rosedale Angelus Cemetery west of downtown Los Angeles. A map of sightings from the eBird citizen science project shows their occurrence here in much more detail — just zoom in on the Los Angeles area until individual sightings appear on the map. 

(Posted by: Kimball Garrett)

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