Burb's Eye View: Urban myths take flight with jungle parrots

Busch Gardens OrlandoDavid Lee RothAnheuser-Busch

Unfortunately, no one can be told what the parrots do. You have to see them for yourself.

I drove Verdugo's wide lanes Thursday afternoon bopping along with David Lee Roth and his newly reunited Van Halen bandmates when a new sound clipped my ears. I turned down Diamond Dave and his advice to “stay frosty” (which I accomplished with a root beer) so I could better experience the cackling growing louder as Frederic Street neared.

The sound was coming from a tree near the street corner, and the tree writhed as if caught in a light wind. No breeze swept the street.

This was no caffeine-infused brain-freeze hallucination. The tree was moving.

A woman stood on the sidewalk, taking a rather brave position under the tree's branches. I pulled my car over to get a closer look, and the sound completely overtook me. The woman shouted something to me, but even from 10 feet away I couldn't hear.

People use the word “deafening” a lot. It's hyperbole at best, unless they happen to be behind a jet aircraft as it takes off or are standing at the front of a Van Halen reunion concert. This was as close to deafening as one will get on a sleepy street in the mid-afternoon.

Sitting on nearly every branch of this tree were hundreds of green-bodied, red-headed parrots. Besides creating a commotion, they left black berries all over the lawn below them.

Joanne Provenzano stood in her doorway on the phone, shaking her head. It's her tree. They're not her parrots.

“It's kind of wild to see this going on,” she told me. “When they leave it looks like stealth bombers.”

For the past few months, this parrot population has picked from Provenzano's pepper tree. The berries they drop stain her sidewalk, so she has to hose it off if the squirrels don't do the job first. Though she's seen them before, she and her neighbors say this year's flock is unusually large.

They offered several theories as to the birds' origins. Some say their ancestors were freed in a pet store fire in the 1960s; others think they're from the old Busch Gardens' bird sanctuary in Van Nuys, which closed in the 1960s.

I even heard them linked to the Anheuser-Busch brewery itself, though I think this rumor fell victim to a game of telephone and started off as the bird sanctuary theory. I do like to picture some master brewer who, once his co-workers have left for the day, climbs to the brewery roof where he keeps an aviary full of brightly plumed minions.

Michael Landsman has taken his research into the parrot predicament much farther. Sitting in the barber chair next to me at Floyd's last Friday, he said he's identified them as a species from Nicaragua, and the parrots always arrive at his home on North Catalina at 4:45 every afternoon.

“It's like living in a zoo,” he said.

Provenzano doesn't mind the new neighbors. In fact, she often calls her friends when the birds show up so they believe her when she tries to describe how loud the parrots are.

“To be honest with you, it's amusing to me. I know some neighbors have called the city, but what are you going to do, shoot them?” (The birds, not the neighbors).

Jennifer Garcia at Burbank's animal shelter said she knew of two complaint calls that have been made in recent weeks. The city can't help, she says. After all, “they're just birds.”

Shortly after I arrived, the birds began to move on — some in groups of four or five, others 50 at a time. The show over, I returned to my car and continued my journey.

But first, I had to clean a souvenir of my adventure off the windshield.

BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he's not applying for his Audubon Society membership, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.

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