While in Phoenix, Arizona right smack in the heat of July of 2011, I
lectured at the Arizona Seed Crackers Society meeting. I am always
honored to be able to talk with club members about birds. My only hope
is that I can add something to their understanding of birds. With a
room full of avian experts, aficionados and fanciers, it’s not an easy
task!

The turnout and the audience were great. By all accounts, the meeting
was a success (which for me means I also got some great food).

However, there was something else that made this particular
trip…special. Dr Todd Driggers an excellent bird veterinarian,
colleague and owner of Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic of Arizona wanted
to show me a taste of the local Pheonix wildlife. Of course, I was
ready and willing.

Dr Todd Driggers with a gila monster

Dr Driggers showed me some amazing reptile life at the Pheonix
Herpetological Society and guided me on a wetland walk to see some of
the local bird life. Don’t get me wrong, this was all fantastic but
what he told me next came as the biggest surprise… ‘Do you want to see
wild peach faced lovebirds?’ he said. I had no idea Phoenix had a
colony of lovebirds and my answer was ‘YES!’.

So off we went and sure enough we found peach face lovebirds nesting in
palm and other trees in a trailer park…in Phoenix! ‘Wow’ I said ‘I
have been in multiple countries in Africa and have never once seen a
wild parrot up close and here I am in Phoenix looking at lovebirds no
more than 10-15 feet away?!?!?’. I guess I can go to San Francisco
to see wild conures, San Diego to see the Amazons, many major cities to
see quakers and now Phoenix for lovebirds. Oh, and Florida for
everything else.

So how do peach faced lovebirds fare in Phoenix? Well, it’s hot and
the birds looked it! Just take a look at this video of a young
lovebird panting. Otherwise, they seem to be prospering quite nicely.

Young peach faced lovebird panting in Phoenix, Az

While seeing the birds was a thrill, there was the reality of what this
could mean. My two biggest concerns are these are invasive birds
taking up nesting sites for native species and the issue of disease
introduction and spread. Possibly the most notable problem is
psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) which lovebirds commonly
carry (sometimes with no signs).

Adult peach faced lovebird with beak and feather abnormalities in Phoenix

While watching and filming the lovebirds, I noticed one with an
overgrown beak and evidence of feather damage (see the video above). As a
veterinarian, I know these are non-specific findings but they clearly
indicate some type of problem. Of course, my biggest concern is PBFD.
This could have been a recently released pet bird that has
non-infectious issues related to the abnormalities noted. However, my
suspicion is that this bird has been out long enough to procreate
(based on the fact it was with several immature lovebirds) and is part
of the established population. If this bird has an infectious disease,
it is likely sharing the problem with the community.

Seeing how these lovebirds were in close proximity to native species
(most notably white winged doves) I have to be concerned about disease
spread and not just with PBFD. Unfortunately, this is how exotic
diseases get introduced. The introduction of West Nile virus in New
York in 1999 is a great example. Each year thereafter, the virus
marched westward killing countless bird species especially birds of
prey and corvids (crow family). Now the virus is endemic throughout
the Americas.

The PBFD virus primarily affects African, Asian, Indonesian and
Australian parrots but has infected and caused disease in other
psittacines. Who knows if some of our native (non-parrot) species can
be affected by PBFD- I guess we may find out. Don’t forget the
endangered thick-billed parrots which range into northern Mexico. And
then there is a collection of other infectious agents lovebirds can
carry….

In summary, I was fascinated by the colony of lovebirds and at the same
time concerned by their presence. I love seeing wildlife and
understand that animal species and populations are in a constant state
of change. However, introduced species have the potential to greatly
alter native populations and ecology. Please don’t release animals in
non-native habitats.

Dr. Scott Echols

About BirdDoctor

2 Responses to “The Feral Lovebirds of Phoenix”

  1. Ludwig A. Konopka

    There is a colony in my neighborhood; recently this disease has manifested. Anything I can do?

    Reply
    • spotdvm

      Ludwig,

      While I do not know the local laws in Phoenix or Arizona, I would recommend contacting Fish and Game officials to discuss the issue. Scott Echols

      Reply

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