The Wild Parrots of Sunnyvale

By Rick Trutna

 

   

San Francisco has its famous wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.  Just down the road however, about 60 miles, in the Silicon Valley community of Sunnyvale, another flock of parrots also lives and thrives out in the wild. Perhaps they don’t enjoy the same notoriety as their SF cousins, but they are just as regal and an odd and remarkable spectacle enjoyed by all those who see them.

Known for some time by local residents, I ran across the parrots about 15 years ago, when I first moved to Sunnyvale. After leaving an Orchard Supply (OSH) store in the neighborhood, I heard some loud unfamiliar-sounding birds squawking above. When I watched for the birds as I drove away from the store, I found them perched in the trees and on the rooftop of a nearby white stucco apartment building, just next to the OSH store.  Bright green with splotches of red, with their distinctive beaks. Yes, these were parrots!  Instantly recognizable and such an odd and wonderful sight.

     

Over the years, I have continued to keep my eye out for the parrots. All you have to do is open your car window, turn down your “radio” and if they are in the area, you will know it. Very loud and from the sound of it, they always seem to be having some lively and spirited discussion among themselves. I have talked about them to friends and they are almost always surprised and find it remarkable, as I do, that these birds are out here and would survive in the wild.

In searching the Internet, I have found a few short articles and postings that have been written in past years about these wild parrots. No one seems to know definitely where they came from, although there are stories and urban legends  ̶  a local pet  store closing, birds escaping from owners, but nobody seems to know for sure.

So, where are the parrots? For those familiar with the area, the parrots appear to hang out most often in the area near El Camino Ave and Mathilda Ave, in Sunnyvale, where Matilda turns into Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road.  Depending on the weather and time of day, you can often see them perched on the blue-tiled roof on the white stucco Ville Cerise apartment complex at Talisman Drive and South Mathilda Ave  or in the nearby trees next to OSH and across the street from a Toys-R-Us store.  (There is also a new 24-Hour fitness club next to Toys-R-Us.) Some parts of this area were developed from the original Olson cherry and fruit orchards that once existed in Sunnyvale. This may also have been convenient in allowing the parrots to take a foothold, since they live primarily on a diet of fruits, seeds, and nuts.

   

The parrots do get around a lot. Depending on the weather and time of day, I have seen them visiting neighborhoods as far as several miles away, as they forage for food, or perhaps simple entertainment. After all, what do you do all day, if you’re a parrot?  At various times and, particularly, towards the end of the day, they congregate in Los Palmas Park, just a few blocks from El Camino and Mathilda Ave. A cluster of palm trees in the park seems to provide a safe haven for the parrots to roost at night. In the late afternoon, different groups from the flock arrive and squabble about accommodations and sleeping arrangements, but then seem to quiet down once they’re all settled in.

   

What type of parrots are they? Sunnyvale Park officials I’ve spoken to, have indicated the parrots are mitred conures, aka red-headed or cherry-head conures.  Adults are mostly green with varying amount of red around their face and throat, and are approximately 13 to 15 inches in length. The mitred conures are native to South American countries, in particular, Peru and Argentina, but in the U.S., populations are also known to exist in states such as California and Florida.

How many are there? Long-time employees in the Sunnyvale Parks department that I’ve spoken to, have known about the parrots since at least the mid 70’s. When I first started observing the parrots in the mid 90’s, I counted at least a couple dozen parrots. Since that time, the parrots have been successfully reproducing and growing in numbers, and I‘ve observed, in the last couple of years, as many as five or six dozen parrots flying together in a flock. (Wild parrots have also been reported in nearby communities of Campbell, Mountain View, and Palo Alto, which may be an altogether different flock or parrots that broke off the original group.)

Here is a video clip of parrots settling down to roost for the night:

Although it may seem surprising, just because of how loud they are, one park employee I talked to said they had not received a single complaint about the parrots, in contrast to the many they receive about the ducks and geese who make a literal mine field of the same park grounds.  (Be careful where you walk!) So, if you’re ever in the Sunnyvale area, and want to catch a glimpse of something a bit remarkable, roll down your car window, and keep your eyes and ears open.  I’ve also posted additional photos and videos of the parrots on Flickr.com that you can check out:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rtrutna/sets/72157629122196514/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rtrutna/sets/72157629764444463/

Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

30 thoughts on “The Wild Parrots of Sunnyvale

  1. Thanks for the pictures and this informative article. I live in Sunnyvale and have seen the parrots quite a few times. I love when I hear them and then spot a few. I think they are so interesting.

    • They are still around. I mostly see them around Los Palmas Park, particularly later afternoons> I usually go on a bike ride through the park on weekends, so I’ve seen them there as recently as a week ago. Around Los Palmas park and streets around there, you’ll often see them being harassed by the black birds or crows. Thanks for the comment/question. 🙂

      Rick

      • It’s 4:51 and I just heard the little guys fly by about five minutes ago! They always put a smile on my face! I used to work for OSH forever ago and unfortunately yes, there were complaints from the residents in the condos with the multi color awnings but I’m glad they’ve found a home in Los Palmas! That island is ideal for them to live!!!

    • I saw them the other day in the trees by the 24-Hour Fitness. They also like the redwood trees around City Hall on Mathilda and El Camino Real.

  2. Hey. They are around and thriving. I have seen various groups spread out all the way from central expressway in the east to Homestead road on the west. I hear and see them all the time around the corner of Remington and Sunnyvale Saratoga road. Also by the Orchard Supply center near where Mathilda meets Sunnyvale Saratoga road.

  3. I live in Sunnyvale and have heard the parrots. My Mom lives in Orange County, I was just there a week ago. There is a flock there. Last summer I saw two in her back yard. This year there were to many to count. Her neighbors have out of control quavas which are now ripe. It was amazing to see they are loud but so beautiful!

  4. Ok I live at Cherry Orchard Apartments. The parrots wake me up each morning as the congregate in the fir trees behind OSH. They nest in the apartment buildings, they like to build their nests in the air vents to the roof spaces. So you see them entering and leaving the vents. My guess is they feed on the cherries over the road by the tennis courts. But they are also present behind Safeways not sure what food supply there is there, guess you could check the fruit isle LOL

    • Yeah, I have seen them in the air vents. Guess, when you need to warm up, it’s probably pretty convenient. The Safeway store is pretty new, but I imagine if there’s a new food source, the parrots will take advantage. I have seen them eating the fruit and buds of trees and I have even talked to some people who say they have fed them, but I’ve never succeeded at attracting them enough to do that. Thanks for posting!

  5. I work the east side of Lawrence Expwy and El Camino. I have seen them fly over the expressway several times, most recently late November 2013. I am fascinated and a bit excited when I see them.

  6. I just spent 10 days in Sunnyvale, and my gosh..the parrots are alive and well and thriving! I counted 42 of them in a flock flying around in that area. I was surprised at how big they are! They were picking at the vents and I wondered if they were picking out lint for nests. What a fun thing to see!

  7. I am at Florence st and Iowa ave in Sunnyvale and I just saw them! I didn’t know there were feral parrots here. I love them.

  8. I saw about 5 of them this morning flying out of the trees at the Graham Middle School track in Mountain View. What a surprise!

  9. I Recently saw the parents by East Evelyn and Wolf looked like there was about 30 of them squawking about very net to see them in this area

  10. About 20 of them just flew over the intersection of Grant Road and Phyliss, near the Ranch 99 in Mountain View. They were heading NW

  11. Just saw the Parrots from my patio. I have seen them here before, no mistaking them.
    Ano Nuevo Street, & Corte Madera Ave. Near the park

  12. I am at El camino and Marhilda right now, and man can they squawk!..I lived at Marhilda garden apts, for many years, at the time there were cherry orchards all around! They would spend all day there!.crazy birds!!

    • Yeah, I always open my windows and sunroof when I drive through that area so I can listen for them. They will always let you know they are around. I’ve been thinking recently of shooting some more videos of them again. I also now have a drone with a decent camera, so thought I might try to catch them late in the day as they roost in the palm trees in the nearby park. I hope they don’t mistake the drone for the blackbirds that always harass them there. 🙂

      -Rick

  13. Pingback: The Parrots of Silicon Valley: An Ecologist’s Perspective | Accordion Gordon

  14. I asked about these birds as a child and my neighbor said she remembered parrots in Sunnyvale when she was a small girl. If she was still alive, she’d be 102 now.

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