Impressions of Rome: Parrots

I have never been much of a bird watcher, though I did appreciate the chanting of mourning doves in the great Pacific Northwest when was I growing up, and now in Rome these many years later. For years I thought their name was “morning,” not “mourning” dove, so I never associated them with plaintive sadness, only with the beginning of a new day. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.

A less welcome avian sound in Rome is the frequent cry of seagulls, inhabiting the Eternal City in abundance, some the size of small dogs, and from my point of view, just plan hard to warm up to. They seem better suited to the beach than the middle of a big city, even if we are not that far from the coast.

That being said, Rome is certainly a city of birds, including the ubiquitous pigeons. Maybe the less about them the better.

On my daily walks amidst the leafy shade trees that line the Tiber River, I inevitably hear the distinctive squawking that until recently I wasn’t sure to what species of bird it belonged. Finally waiting long enough to see one or more of the birds taking flight in the trees, I could plainly see they were parrots, green in color and anything but ugly compared to seagulls and pigeons.

This “parrot discovery” immediately reminded me of an enjoyable documentary I saw some years ago, called, “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” about the enormous flock of parrots that inhabit part of the city of San Francisco, California, especially among the trees of Telegraph Hill. The film was released in 2003, made by Judy Irving and Mark Bittner. They are the only “cast members,” as the rest of the “actors” are the parrots of Telegraph Hill. I highly recommend this serious and at the same time humorous documentary.

The parrots that I regularly hear and occasionally see in Rome are technically “rose-ringed Parakeets,” or sometimes called, “ring-necked Parakeets.” Not native to Italy, the birds originally came from Asia and Africa and began to be spotted in Rome in the late 1970s. Though technically Parakeets, they are popularly called parrots.

These lively birds have been described, and rightly so, as gregarious, flamboyant and noisy. They have established breeding colonies among the parks and tree-lined neighborhoods of Rome. One might wonder how these long-tailed birds got here. They weren’t assigned as I was! In any case, they certainly are likeable birds in my opinion.

Like the parrots in San Francisco, the ones in Rome either escaped from aviaries or were intentionally released by owners who had acquired the exotic birds as pets and then grew tired of them or decided that others might enjoy them as well. Perhaps they simply escaped from one or another cage in an apartment window. Whatever the origin, he parrots quickly spread and multiplied and now have become a fairly normal part of birdlife in Rome.

Like seagulls and pigeons, parrots do not migrate and the ones of Rome are among the few of their species to have adapted successfully to living year round in an urban environment. If they can do it, so can I, I remind myself now and then. Yes, I am still adjusting!

The rose-ringed Parakeets in Rome have been able to tolerate ambient temperatures far lower than those of their native Africa and Asia. This would be less of an issue in San Francisco, where temperatures do not fluctuate much in the course of the year, but in Rome it can get quite cold throughout the winter months.

Always green in color, the parrots have varying shades of that color among their feathers, sporting a red beak, with a distinctive ring around the neck. The adult male has a red or black feathered neck ring and the female usually a grayish colored one. The birds can measure up to sixteen inches long, which includes the flowing tail feathers, a large portion of their total length.

In the wild, these birds usually feed on buds, fruit, vegetables, nuts, berries and seeds. Flocks will often fly several miles to obtain their meals, sometimes to farmlands and orchards, causing extensive damage. They also eat leaves. The parrots of Rome seem to get by with what is available within the city without doing damage to farms or orchards. Even in the winter some things are growing here, presumably providing feed of one kind or another.

In a city setting, Rome included, parrots have few or no predators and pigeons and seagulls completely ignore them, so they tend to thrive. In Rome they are present especially in the gardens of the Palatine and Janiculum Hills, as well as in the trees of the Trastevere neighborhood near where I live and at the Villa Borghese.

I find the parrots enjoyable to listen to, pleasant to look at and a welcome addition to my morning exercise walks, especially during the “hot time, summer in the city,” as we sang about in the 1960s. No, I wasn’t the Byrds (pronounced, “Birds”) who sang that song, but the Lovin’ Spoonful! End of trivia lesson.