September 26

The Scarlet-fronted parakeets of Maple Leaf



Scarlet-fronted parakeets, courtesy Dennis Paulson.

It starts, usually, with a cacophonous cackle from a cherry or cedar tree.

Follow the sound and find some brightly colored birds that obviously don’t belong in Maple Leaf. It’s our flock of Scarlet-fronted parakeets, a band of South American birds that routinely migrates all the way south to … Seward Park.

They were spotted (and heard) most recently at Northeast 90th Street and 12th Avenue Northeast on Friday afternoon by Simone Lupson-Cook, a birder and Maple Leaf resident.

The flock has been around for decades, at least since the early 1990s, and possibly got started when bird-lovers discovered their pet parakeets were too loud to keep in the house. Local lore has it that the birds winter in Maple Leaf and spend summer vacations at Seward Park.

The size of the flock varies, but there don’t seem to be as many now as  eight or 10 years ago, when a dozen or more parakeets would descend on the neighborhood. Over time they have been called parrots, Crimson-fronted parakeets, Red-fronted Conures and Mitred conures.

Some years they’re been missing altogether, but were heard last fall, and but three birds showed up here on January 20, as did Dennis Paulson, another Maple Leaf resident and ornithologist who is director emeritus of the Slater Museum of Natural History.

Paulson, who frequently teaches for the Seattle Audubon Society, confirmed his previous identification of those birds as Scarlet-fronted parakeets, Aratinga wagleri.

If you see (or hear) them in your trees, let us know!

About the author 

Sara W

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  1. Thanks Simone! I am admittedly not a bird aficionado, so used only a few words to describe what I see in my backyard. I looked up the names you gave, and indeed, those are the ones.

    I’ll try to provide some more munchies and habitat for the them. As well as try to keep the squirrels away from from the source. I no longer grow acorn or butternut squash as my squirrels are too avaricious and won’t share.

  2. We had these critters in our garden back in the early 1990’s. It was a snowy morning in December when I looked out of the window because I heard a strange cackling noise. There in our Styrax (Snowbell) Tree sat nine beautiful green birds. I couldn’t believe my eyes but I got pictures! They seemed to relish the dry fruits of our tree. They stayed a while, then moved on to Ballard and from there to Seward Park.

  3. The parrots are in Seattle year round but not Maple Leaf year round.

    They are attracted to bird feeders, esp. with sunflower seeds as well as actual sunflower plants. I saw them years ago on those large sunflower plants with the big (dinner plate sized) seed heads. I saw them two days ago feeding on hemlock cones so they are definitely adapting to use our native conifers much like their (distant) relatives in Mexico. Thick-billed Parrots in Mexico primarily feed on pine.

    As for the crows-if you have a lot of tree or shrub cover the crows are less likely to find songbird nests. I assume you are talking about Red-breasted Nuthatches and Steller’s Jays? Interestingly, when crows do prey on songbirds, it is usually American Robins. And luckily robins are doing just fine in numbers!

  4. Cool! Are they really here year round? Can Simon comment on what we can do to make our yards more hospitable?

    I have a nice backyard with three 4×8 raised beds that tend to attract small birds. The occasional red breasted and blue jays come in, but the crows scare them off and/or kill the young.

    While I respect and admire the crows, they definitely seem to prevent other feathers from occupying the same space.

    Any ideas?

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