Top L.A. Legends # 19: Birds are taking over Los Angeles

Okay, maybe they’re not taking over. But there’s defintely been an invasion. There are all sorts of urban legends about local birds, the two most popular are the Chickens of the 101 and the Wild Parrots of Temple City and Hollywood. How true are they? Very … it’s not their existence that’s in question, but the stories of their origins are still the stuff of urban legends.

The story of the Chickens of The Hollywood Freeway starts sometime in the late sixties when enough chickens were released on the busy highway to start a sustainable population. Where the chicken settlers came from is a mystery. One of the more likely stories is that a poultry truck overturned and some chickens (including roosters) escaped and took up residence. However, over the years many people have come forward to admit that they also released chickens in the area. (Read more at Snopes.) Stories range from children rescuing pet chickens from a school closing to kids with backyard chickens threatened by neighbors to backyard chickens being chased by a dog. All seem like plausible stories and it’s entirely possible every one of them is true and each of those little bands of chickens joined together in the new colony.

The chickens may have gone feral, but most birdwatchers agree that the Wild Parrots spotted all over SoCal are probably wild. There are at least five flocks of Wild Parrots that have formed breeding populations, the most notable and documented is probably the flock in Temple City but they have been spotted in great numbers in Pasadena, Hollywood, El Segundo, Downtown and isolated sightings just about everywhere in between.

The parrots have done particularly well in the Los Angeles area because of our large number of tropical trees, many of which are indigenous to the areas the parrots are originally from.

As with the chickens, the theories as to how and when the parrots arrived are plentiful. The most widely repeated one is that hundreds of birds escaped from a quarantine aviary at the Port of Los Angeles in 1992 after a brutal storm.

Other stories also include a natural migration of the birds, most from their native Mexico. An estimated 2,600 red-crowned parrots live in the greater Los Angeles area, which with its mild climate and wide array of exotic vegetation is an epicenter for imported birds. Red-crowned parrots are endangered in their native eastern Mexico. (Link)

Quaint stories also appear, the San Gabriel Valley legend says that a pet shop owner relased the birds when his storefront caught on fire in 1959. Though he was saving their lives, he knew full well that he’d never recapture them, but probably never imagined that they’d grow into a breeding population. Part of the Westside population may have gained a population boost as well in 1997 when birds were released from a private aviary during the 1997 Malibu Fires.

As with the chickens, it’s likely that many of these stories as well as pets escaping from private owners are true. The ten species of parrots documented to date are Red-crowned Parrots (the most common), Lilac-crowned Parrots, Rose-ringed Parakeets, Red-lored Parrots, Blue-fronted Parrots, White-fronted Parrots as well as these conures: Mitred Parakeets, Red-masked Parakeets, Blue-crowned Parakeets and parakeets: Canary-winged Parakeets, Yellow-chevroned Parakeets.

Chicken Sign photo by Leo Reynolds & Parrot Flock by TravOC

6 thoughts on “Top L.A. Legends # 19: Birds are taking over Los Angeles”

  1. I’ve heard the parrots so often in Los Angeles that now when I hear their distinct cry, I know to look up for these green birds streaking from tree to tree.

    I’ve seen huge flocks in the trees by the Natural History museum.

    But I have my doubts about the legends of being a transplanted population since I’ve seen these birds in Southern cities from New Orleans to the West Coast. I would think that we are in these birds normal territory.

  2. There used to be a flock of parrots in my neighborhood in Lakewood, but they’re gone now. But now there are squirrels there, which were never there before.

  3. Oh those feral parrots are not myth or legend, how they got there might be. There are according to my pal over at the LA Arboretum in Arcadia over 200 nesting pairs at this point. Those blasted birds are moving out and colonizing new areas. Monrovia has a couple of flocks, one that tried to colonize my street but we scare them away with popcorn and wrist rockets. The regularily strip the avocado trees over on Grand Avenue that belongs to my sons friend. So there…they are real and they are taking over.

  4. I’ve seen quite a few of the parrots in the trees outside the pet store at Franklin and Hillhurst in Los Feliz. I always thought they just escaped from the store.

  5. When I lived in Venice, each summer we’d ‘welcome’ a couple of parrots to the palm trees on our street (man, were they loud!). I now live in Highland Park and we hear roosters crowing all day long. They’re a little easier on the ears.

  6. I was just woken from a very sound sleep by what sounded like thousands of those parrots, but was probably only about a hundred or so…I have lived in Monrovia for about 20 years, and in all that time I have seen those wild parrots all over the city. They make me smile..just a bit of colorful whimsy to add to my day.

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