A saying amongst ultrarunners goes, “If you run long enough something is bound to happen.” Sometimes weeks go by without anything out of the ordinary happening on my runs, but occasionally I see something quite unusual. Last year I was running under a bridge several hours before sun-up and discovered a colony of bats returning to their roost. In fact, just the other morning a friend and I were stopped dead in our tracks by a rattlesnake crossing the trail, although that really isn’t that unusual for those of us who run trails in the desert.
A few weeks ago though, I saw something very strange. At least I thought I did. On one very hot and humid morning, I was running along the irrigation canals near the Rio Grande when I heard a terrible squawking and chattering up in the treetops. I stopped to take a closer look and thought I saw some parrots in the trees. I wasn’t sure because they were backlit and I could only see their silhouettes. One was biting the tree branch he was perched on just like pet parrots do in their cages. A few minutes later a bird took flight from another tree and I saw a quick flash of bright green. Not exactly sure what I saw, I kept on running wondering the whole time if I really saw wild parrots. Parrots in the desert! Seriously?
|I believe this is a Kestrel.|
When I got home I couldn’t stop obsessing over the birds, so I talked to Cara about it. Is it possible that we have a flock of wild parrots living in El Paso? Were they migrating or were they escaped pet birds? After running for several hours in the heat, had I merely been hallucinating? I’ve been known to see and hear things that weren’t there while running, but that is usually at night after 60 or more miles into a 100 miler. I’ve seen a Jaguarundi, clowns during the Javelina Jundred and one time a unicorn, but never parrots. Cara was very supportive and said that she believed me, but I could tell she didn’t. She really did think I was nuts, just like the time I drove her over to a pasture to see some llamas that weren’t there.
|I didn't hallucinate this miniature pony.|
Anyway, that evening Cara, Maddie and I decided to take a little walk on the canal road to see if we could spot the birds that may or may not have been parrots. Sure enough we heard the same squawking coming from a stand of trees, but couldn’t see the parrots. At dusk a flock took flight, but they were shaped more like ducks. The mystery still wasn’t solved, but I was bound and determined to see these parrots.
|Trumpet vine growing along the canal.|
Several days later, I went for another run in the same area and again heard the birds, but they were in someones yard. I ran on the road around the block to the side and front of their house, stopping now and again to look into the trees. Luckily the owners of the property never spotted me, because they probably would have called the cops because some lunatic was casing the joint. Never having seen the birds, I grew frustrated and continued running along the canal.
As I was nearing the end of my workout, I decided to make one more pass down the canal. Finally my efforts paid off. As I was looking into the trees a bright green parrot flew along the canal right in front of me. I stopped to watch and several other birds came into view and perched in the trees above me. A lady was walking her dog, so I asked if she had seen the parrots before. “Oh yes, they congregate every morning and squawk at each other for hours.” Another gentleman came jogging along and I asked him if he had seen them before. “Yeah, they have been here for many years.” It seemed that everyone knew of the flock of wild parrots, but me.
I took some pictures and a few videos of the birds so I could show Cara and Maddie that I wasn’t seeing things. I looked up the species and believe they are Lilac-crowned parrots, but the Red-crowned parrot is very similar. Bird books say they are probably descendants of escaped pet birds, but they are native to parts of Mexico which really isn’t that far from us. Nevertheless, I feel very privileged to have seen these beautiful birds in the wild. Seeing them fly freely is much more rewarding than watching caged birds. I also learned that, while a pet dog may live 10-20 years, a parrot’s lifespan is upwards of 50-60 years. Think about that before you decide to purchase Polly.
See you on the trail.