Learning new things when it comes to photography isn’t always about f-stops and shutter speeds. Sometimes seeing and shooting something new prompts me to do a little research to find out more about the subject of my photo. The photo above prompted just that kind of investigation.
Several years ago when driving out of my neighborhood, I saw about 15 peach-faced lovebirds (also called rosy-faced lovebirds) lined up along my neighbor’s fence. I had seen them before in pet shops and I thought they must have been someone’s pets that escaped but I never saw them again.
Enter Instagram. I began to see people from this area posting about seeing peach-faced lovebirds in their yards and at their feeders but I still hadn’t seen any more in my neighborhood. Then last week I was out for a walk with a friend and only about a block from home when I heard some squawking and looked up to see this:
There were about five of them flying around, landing on and hiding out in this saguaro (can you see the one peeking out on the right side?). All I had with me was my phone, which I knew would be woefully inadequate because this saguaro was tall! So after my walk I grabbed my big camera and my 300mm lens and went back to see if they were still there. They were!
After taking quite a few photos, I decided I wanted to learn more about where they came from and hopefully you’re interested in finding out too because I’m going to tell you!
Peach-faced lovebirds are not native to Arizona. They are actually native to southwestern Africa! However, over the years escaped pet birds have established themselves in the urban Sonoran desert and they have become naturalized citizens of the state. All the flocks in the desert areas here are descendants of escaped pet birds.
But while initial growth of peach-faced lovebirds can be credited to rapid breeding, it’s the suitability of the bird to the warm and dry climate of Phoenix that keeps the population flourishing. A lack of natural predators in the area also helps harbor these parrots. The peach-faced lovebirds’ flocking behavior appears to be adequate for keeping predatory birds like owls, hawks and falcons from preying upon them.
Their breeding success here -- and only here, among places the birds may have escaped within the United States -- apparently is because of the comfortably dry and warm climate, ready availability of water and good supply of foods from native and exotic plants, including palm fruit, cactus fruit, apples and various seed pods. The birds also flock to backyard fountains and sprinkler systems to drink and bathe, providing a reliable water source for their flock and entertainment for home owners throughout residential Phoenix.
The exact population is unknown, but a 2010 census detected about 950 in the Valley. I'm sure there are a lot more now because more and more people are reporting seeing them.
Troy Corman of the Arizona Field Ornithologists, an organization of birders and professionals dedicated to public knowledge of the state's avian inhabitants, said, "These spunky and noisy, bright-green birds seem to attract a lot of attention. Their unpredictable visits to city parks and backyard bird baths are said to be huge hits with residents, but the birds are not common sights. Most people I've spoken to immediately knew the birds I was talking about but had seen them just once or twice."
That has been my experience as well. I know of several people who have seen them and had them visit their backyard bird feeders, but they aren't always regular visitors. I have been back to the saguaro several times and have not seen them return, so I feel pretty lucky that I was in the right place at the right time that day. Maybe if I stay alert I will see them again. And while I'm waiting, I'm going to set up a bird feeder in my backyard to increase my chances of getting them to stop by!
Disclaimer: The top two images are mine. The remaining are ones from Google Images that I found during my research. Hopefully I will see these little beauties again and can capture more photos of my own but I wanted you to see just how amazing they are!