New Bird-Watching Column: "The Birdman of Bel Air"

Mathew Tekulsky
The Birdman of Bel Air
October 14, 2003

Mathew Tekulsky will be writing a regular column about birding in his backyard and neighborhood in Bel Air, California. You can follow his encounters with the birds of the Santa Monica Mountains here on National Geographic News BirdWatcher every fortnight or so.

The black-hooded parakeets have been flying over my neighborhood in the western part of Bel Air for as long as I can remember—and I've been here for 25 years. They travel the neighborhood, squawking and screeching all day long.

The funny thing is, they always arrive at my yard at the same time every day—about 4 p.m. in the winter and about 6 p.m. in the summer. In other words, about an hour or so before the sun goes down.

You can time your day by the arrival of the parakeets. I'm their last stop of the day, and after they pig out at my feeder and the sunlight becomes its hardest just before going down behind the mountains to the west, they fly off over those peaks, screeching as they go.

If I don't have any mixed birdseed in the feeder when they arrive, they start screeching away, as if demanding that I fill up the feeder. And when I drive my car into the driveway and get out, they start screeching away, as if they recognize the car and know that a free meal is just minutes away.

Originally from South America, the black-hooded parakeets (Nandayus nenday) are big birds (about 12 inches, or 30 centimeters, long), and they have established a colony of about 20 or 30 birds in my neighborhood. Other sections of Los Angeles have their own introduced parrot or parakeet species that have established colonies in their areas, but mine are the black-hooded parakeets—and I love them.

For one thing, they are very humanlike in their behavior. If two black-hooded parakeets are perched alongside each other on the branch of a tree, one will sidle up to the other one and peck its beak, or bite its neck, or entangle its claws in the other one's—almost as if they are either teasing each other or courting.

Black-hooded parakeets are never content to just sit around and do nothing. They are constantly twitching about, and giving out half-screeches or chips before they erupt into a full screech. They have an interesting flight pattern, in which they flap their wings about twice as many times as a scrub jay or mockingbird, and they can turn on a dime in the air.

Anyway, I read recently that the stupid idiots in a previous generation of humans actually allowed our native Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) to go extinct. Now, this parakeet was so green that it blended in with the foliage of the trees to such a degree that it became virtually invisible (hence its ability to survive through countless generations of natural selection).

Whenever I look into the green leaves of the trees in my neighborhood and see the black-hooded parakeets camouflaged there, I think of the poor Carolina parakeet. I'm so thankful that the parakeets of South America decided to grace us with their presence. (They did not migrate here originally, but no doubt escaped or were released from a local aviary.)

But the other day, one of my black-hooded parakeets did something amazing with the leaf of one of these broad-leaved trees in which it was perched. After chewing away on a green pinecone, which it alternately held in its foot or in its mouth (or in its mouth while its foot still held onto the pinecone and turned the cone as if it were corn-on-the-cob so the parakeet could find a fresh area of the cone to dig out the pine nuts), the parakeet suddenly decided that it was time to fly off with the rest of its mates over the hills to the west.

I fully expected this black-hooded parakeet to fly off with the half-eaten pinecone in its mouth or in its beak, but instead, it delicately lay the pinecone on a medium-sized leaf that acted like a table for the pinecone. To my amazement, the pinecone didn't fall off of this table, but stayed there well after the parakeet had taken off.

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