Monday, February 4, 2013

Peach-faced Lovebirds

Looking deeply into the dense foliage I could see shapes and forms of what were surely birds…very well hidden birds. By positioning myself just right, though, Peach-faced Lovebirds came into view.

I spent a morning recently in the company of my brother, his wife and three nieces, Hannah 16, Olivia 11, and Ava 8, in an urban Arizona park along with approximately ninety-seven other kids of the same age and exuberance. It was all very enjoyable, but it’s important to note here, the birds were a bit edgy.

Given the kid-factor, it wasn’t surprising that I hadn’t seen a bird closer than a quarter mile.  My luck wasn’t likely to change either, as the number of running kids, rolling bikes and sniffing dogs increased. It was a trade-off though, spending quality-time with three wonderful girls or finding new birds…both worthwhile pursuits. Fortunately, I didn’t have to choose.  The three nieces made the decision for me.

They decided the swings and ladders were more interesting than the birds and they left for the playground with their grandfather, my brother, Kenn.  Meanwhile the other ninety-seven kids kept the birds at bay by themselves, so after an hour, I, too returned to the playground with few birds to show for my morning’s effort.
I asked my sister in law, Linda, where my brother was and she said, "Over that wall, under that tree," pointing to a low wall with multi-colored kid-sized images painted on it.  I looked over the wall and she was right. My laid-back brother was lying on his back under a mesquite tree.  One ankle was across one knee; his head was propped up on a water bottle.  He was looking up into the tree listening to a noisy chatter coming through the dense foliage.  He was wondering what was making all that noise, but that was as far as he went.

My brother can be inquisitive, but rarely so curious as to get up and investigate.  He remained prone, as he is not prone to exertion. He expends only enough energy to keep his heart pumping.

Meanwhile, overhead two Peach-faced Lovebirds were so affectionate towards one another I felt embarrassed watching them, but it was hard to look away.

Sitting wing-to-wing on branches they’d nuzzle and groom, preen and tease, advance and demure, offer and accept, as if they were the only two birds in the world. This went on for quite a while, just fifteen feet overhead in a Gilbert (Phoenix) city park visible to all those who cared to watch.  A small crowd gathered to see what I was doing and soon the oohing and aahing and pointing commenced.  Even my brother got up to watch!

Peach-faced Lovebirds can make sharing a stick joyful.

Peach-faced Lovebirds, as they are called in Phoenix, are not native, but Phoenix has a self-sustaining flock of around 2500 birds.  Known as the Rosy-faced Lovebird elsewhere, it’s an African bird imported by the pet trade.  The Phoenix flock established itself many years ago by escapees and possibly an intentional release of sufficient birds to form a breeding flock.  They are very social birds.  Finding favorable conditions in the desert southwest, similar to their Namibian homeland, they prospered.  They have become welcome visitors at backyard feeders all over Phoenix.  

Living fifteen to twenty-five years in captivity, a Peach-faced Lovebird’s lifespan is known, but a wild bird’s lifespan in hard to estimate. Quick enough to avoid most urban predators such as raptors and feral cats and given their outward affection towards each other, they may reproduce well enough to make Phoenix a permanent home.

Introducing a non-native species into an environment isn’t a wise practice, especially a suspected renegade release like this one.  Unfortunately, little time and effort has been spent studying the Peach-faced Lovebirds of Phoenix, as they seem to be a low priority to ornithologists.

Given the misguided introductions of the past (i.e. House Sparrows, European Starlings, House Finches) this one seems confined to Phoenix by natural forces. I have no insight as to their possible impact on the environment, only an opinion on their impact on me…they’re gorgeous.