CPP student research spreads the word about the California parrots

By Emely Bonilla, Dec. 12, 2023

If students have ever driven past the West Covina mall or down Temple Avenue at sunset, they have probably seen groups of parakeets and parrots flying overhead and squawking loudly. These birds are not native to California but have made cities throughout the state their homes. 

Destiny Rojas, a graduate student working under assistant professor Janel Ortiz, is conducting research focusing on these parrots and their roost sizes using both manual surveying and UAV-mounted thermal cameras, or drones. 

“I definitely think that everyone sees and hears these parrots, they have just become a thing that we deal with, especially if you live by them,” said Rojas. “When people see us doing research, see us counting them, the public will begin to ask questions. Public education is a huge thing that wildlife biologists need to focus on; we cannot really do anything unless the public knows and wants to be involved.” 

It is believed that there are around 3,000 California parrots representing about 13 different species surviving in different roosts within Los Angeles County. A roost is a tree where birds of the same species settle at night. Every sunrise the birds spread out and eat different fruits, seeds and more from shrubs and trees they can find. 

These parrots have been able to establish themselves in urbanized areas after their ancestors were most likely imported through California and escaped. Researchers have yet to determine a sole reason as to why these birds have decided to stay in cities that are so unlike their native habit.  

To conduct her study, Rojas gathered the help of seven CPP volunteers to count the roosts throughout LA County. Rojas trains the volunteers estimate parrot groups while they are flying toward the chosen roosts. These birds sometimes travel in small groups or in huge numbers over 50. Volunteering at these roosts is beneficial for the students involved and brings awareness to the bird population. 

Psychology student, Lucas Duncan, was previously enrolled as a biology major at CPP and has worked with professor Ortiz in the past, so he was eager to get trained and help Rojas with her study. 

Plethora of parrots soar through the sky over local neighborhoods. | Emely Bonilla

“This work is important,” said Duncan. “Our ecosystems are so dependent on some of these species and if we lose one it can affect entire ecosystems, so it’s good to learn about it.”  

Though the project will continue through the next year, so far Rojas and her team have been able to collect data for both West Covina and Temple City roosts and are considering expanding to other known cities such as Pasadena. 

Biology student Sophia Randazzo expressed how volunteering helped her gain research experience. 

“The parrots were really interesting, the way they congregate and the way they fly, but at the same time volunteering was a great thing to put on my resume because now I have first-hand experience in data collection,” shared Randazzo. 

For Rojas, she hopes her work inspires both her volunteers and the public to be more aware and respectful of their surroundings because people share space with other living things. 

“I know we live in this big city, urbanized areas can seem really redundant,” said Rojas. “We get through our commutes, and it seems like there’s not much going on, but be more knowledgeable and curious because the more you look the more you find that we are surrounded by things. We have a lot of wildlife around here. See how you impact them and how they can impact you.” 

For more information about the California parrots visit here.

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