Potential Big Flap – Parakeets have escaped and prospered here

It’s not just a keen interest in rose-ringed parakeets that’s motivating a local researcher to document their presence in Kern County. 

Alison Sheehey’s interest runs deeper. If the naturalized parakeets feed on a lot of fruits and nuts, they may have an impact on local agriculture. And if there are only so many trees with so many nesting cavities, they might be displacing other birds.

Their possible impacts are good reasons to study them, Sheehey said.

About 187 rose-ringed parakeets have been confirmed in Bakersfield. They are naturalized, meaning they have been introduced to the area and have bred successfully.

“Bakersfield has the most significant naturalized population,” Sheehey said, adding that their population in Bakersfield appears to be growing.

Sheehey, a Cal State Bakersfield biology student, president of the campus biology club and vice president of the Kern River Parkway Foundation, is looking for a little help in the form of tips where she can see this bird or other wild parrots.

Within a month, Sheehey plans to submit her preliminary findings to the journal Western Birds.

“Bakersfield wildlife is more diverse than most people realize,” Sheehey said as she turned the pages of bird books. “We have exotic species. The thing about Bakersfield wildlife is the diversity is so underreported. People don’t take time to look up and see what’s flying in the sky or look down to see what’s crawling on the ground.”

Sheehey first noticed this parakeet, also known as the Indian Ringneck Parakeet, in Hart Park in 1987.

“The population here is quite large,” said Ted Weinheimer, a CSUB biology professor who said he is interested in how the parakeets interact with other species and whether they create competition.

The earliest confirmed report is a male who escaped from a cage in northeast Bakersfield 20 years ago. Sheehey said the parakeets are quite smart and escape easily.

Sheehey said her research shows 31 of the birds have been documented in Miami and 64 have been documented in Los Angeles. There are also some in London, she said.

Some people don’t like the birds because they eat fruits and nuts and can be noisy.

Other people, like Barbara Mansfield, love them.

Mansfield first met Sheehey on an Audubon Society field trip last fall, and Sheehey asked whether she’d ever seen a rose-ringed parakeet. After Mansfield saw some birds, she kept returning to count and document more to report the information to Sheehey.

“I feel like an FBI agent,” said Mansfield, who recalls first seeing the parakeets in 1985 or 1986 near Panorama Drive. “The fun is Alison gets to do the heavy-duty aspect and write the research, and I get to run around town and see them.”

“It’s a beautiful bird,” Sheehey said. “It’s kind of fascinating to see a bird that can be so far from its native land and still be breeding successfully here.”

The birds are found natively in Africa, West Africa and India, among other places.

The males are about 16 inches long, and about half the length is the tail. It takes 18 months to three years for them to get their adult plumage. The males have a bright, rosy-pink bill tipped in black. Their bodies are emerald green, and they are yellow under their wings. Underneath the tail is yellow. They have a blue wash on the back of their heads.

The females do not have a ring along their necks. Their bills are a light, dusty pink. Their chin and throat are a pale green.

To report the presence of rose-ringed parakeets in Kern County, call Sheehey at (661) 399-0269, or send the information to naturali@pacbell.net .

Californian staff writer
e-mail: cpeterson@bakersfield.com

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