Love them or hate them, the parrots of Los Angeles are hard to miss and here to stay.
All the parrots in Los Angeles were brought here from their native homes in Mexico to serve as pets. Through escape, accident, or intentional release, many species have now firmly established themselves in the city. They also seem to be increasing. In the mid-1970s, then Moore Lab Director Bill Hardy documented only one pair of Red-crowned Parrots in the city. They now number in the thousands.
The Moore Lab is studying the DNA of Los Angeles’ Red-crowned Parrots and closely-related Lilac-crowned Parrots. Neither is doing well in their native ranges, where they are listed as endangered species due to habitat destruction and illegal capture for the pet trade. There are probably more Red-crowned Parrots in Los Angeles than in Mexico. Some have suggested the Los Angeles parrots might someday be a sort of “rescue population" to reseed their wild range if they are lost from Mexico. But are Los Angeles parrots still maintaining their integrity as a distinct species, or are liaisons between species leading to an increasingly “mutt-like" parrot that is a mix of all species present in the city?
The Moore Lab specimen collection has both Red-crowned and Lilac-crowned Parrots from the 1930s through 1950s, before they were introduced to Los Angeles. In the wild, they live on different coasts of Mexico and never come into contact. By sequencing DNA from these specimens, we can understand baseline differences between these species in the wild. Then, by sequencing DNA from Los Angeles parrots, we can understand how common hybrids are and what plumage traits are observed in hybrid birds. These data will not only allow us to better understand the conservation importance of our Los Angeles parrots, but they will also elucidate how and when the parrots arrived here.
We just sent out samples for DNA sequencing! Stay tuned for results!
Staff Lead Investigator: James Maley
Staff Researchers: John McCormack, Whitney Tsai, Alicia Pentico
Past Students: Rowdy Freeland