T E M P L E   C I T Y, Calif., Nov. 20, 2000 -- Too many birds of a feather may be flocking in the San Gabriel Valley.

Experts fear a growing population of wild, non-native parrots is crowding native birds out of prime nesting spots.

The problem, researchers say, is the pecking order.

“There are only so many nest sites available,” said Melanie Stalder, a graduate student at California Polytechnic University in Pomona who has studied the phenomenon. “If the parrots take over, then the native birds won’t be able to use them.”

Parrots Traced to 1950s Pet Shop

Stalder and fellow researcher Karen Mabb expect to begin a project next spring to investigate why parrots have so successfully colonized the San Gabriel Valley cities east of Los Angeles. They also hope to determine whether the parrots are inbreeding, the Pasadena Star-News reported.

Some trace the wild parrots to a fire in a Pasadena pet shop in 1959, when the owner freed birds to save them from the flames. But the fire is only one factor, said Kimball Garrett, ornithologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Poachers smuggling parrot eggs from Mexico, birds escaping their wire cages and reproduction in the wild all contribute to the growing flock.

Parakeets Also Thriving

The three researchers have joined forces and are tracking parrot populations in cities throughout California, including Bakersfield, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino and Riverside.

Most parrots appear to find homes in tree cavities in suburban neighborhoods. But another exotic bird that is thriving in the wild, the black-hooded parakeet, has been found living in the Southern California foothills.

If exotic birds establish themselves in outlying areas, it could endanger native species such as woodpeckers and bluebirds.

“They could impact species that can’t survive in any other habitat,” Garrett said.

The Southern California parrot population is especially pronounced in Temple City. One neighborhood is home to an estimated 1,500 parrots, their squawking frequently waking homeowners.