On Thursday, March 3rd, SoCal Parrot’s hotline buzzed with news of a wounded parrot out front in a yard on Keats Street. A volunteer dispatched the bloodied bird to a veterinarian, where it died. The body count then stood at five wild parrots killed within a span of two weeks, and all in Point Loma neighborhoods by an unknown shooter armed with a pellet gun of some kind.
“There’s been a lot of talk on social media about a certain teenage individual who, according to some, is involved.” Harold Holmes is a deputy director of the Department of Animal Services. “But our investigation has turned up no involvement at all. We cleared that individual and many others who may have had potential involvement.”
San Diego Police likewise responded and filed a report, but Holmes says they turned the investigation over to the Department of Animal Services. “We’ve been out canvassing the neighborhoods where the dead birds were found, and we are following up on all leads.”
The first feathered fatality, a lilac-crowned Amazon, was discovered February 19th at Mariner’s Cove apartments near Loma Portal. Three days later, two mortally wounded red-masked conures were reported near the intersection of Gage and Talbot streets in Pt. Loma. Another dead conure came from the same neighborhood on February 26th. (SoCal Parrot’s Brooke Durham counts two other parrots found dead in Point Loma during this same time frame but says the remains were too desiccated to reveal cause of death.) Another mortally injured red-masked conure was found March 3rd across town on Keats.
“We now have proof of how these birds died,” Holmes says, “due to the findings of necropsies,” necropsy being another term for autopsy. Holmes lists findings of shattered bones, entrance and exit wounds consistent with BBs or similar projectiles, and in some cases, pellets found lodged inside of body cavities. “Projectile similarity? Yes, that’s something we’re looking at.” His hope is that investigators can match the recovered pellets to a single brand — and possibly to a single gun.
“But we can’t yet rule out the possibility of there being separate shooters. Four of one parrot species were shot in a fairly close area,” he explains, “and another one of a different species was found a distance away. At this point, we’re not sure.” Otherwise, there have been no more parrot shootings reported since March 3rd.
Or have there?
On Sunday, March 27, two more dead conures were dropped off at a Point Loma fire station by a woman who claimed she found them outside of the All Souls’ Episcopal Church on Catalina Boulevard. Later that day, the remains were transported to the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital near Linda Vista. Dr. Jeff Jenkins says his staff was instructed by DAS to not perform necropsies but that they x-rayed the dead conures “and found no pellet or metal in them that would prove they were shot.” DAS picked up the remains on Monday the 28th. Harold Holmes later confirmed that the birds were necropsied elsewhere but declined to release the results.
“We got a new conure on Thursday, March 31,” Jenkins emails. He says the bird is recovering from surgery performed at the Avian and Exotic Animal Hospital to remove two pellets from its body. “The wound on its right leg appears older than the other wound on the left wing.” Jenkins says the bird is alive and well.
SoCal Parrot is in Jamul; think of the home-based agency as a sort of Project Wildlife for naturalized parrots. Durham founded and manages SoCal Parrot with husband Joshua Bridwell. The two have some experience rehabbing parrots from pellet-gun wounds, even though their records show that such attacks are relatively infrequent. For example, in December of 2014, an Amazon parrot was found shot in Lakeside, along with another in Ocean Beach in August and yet another in Imperial Beach in October. All survived their injuries, but Bridwell wonders how many more parrots may also have been lined up in someone’s crosshairs. “Many, many birds have come in to us with shattered bones in their wings. There’s no way to know if they flew into something or were shot.” But never, he emails, have the two seen the hometown parrot flocks attacked in such large numbers as this.
Shooting at parrots is considered an act of animal cruelty and is a federal crime punishable by jail time and a $20,000 fine. California Penal Code 246.3 calls the discharging of a BB device a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Are other local birds, such as crows or city pigeons ever picked off by backyard potshots? Holmes answers, “There’s been the occasional [bird] shooting over the years, but nothing that has led to any prosecution.”
Experts estimate that anywhere between 500 and 1500 or more wild parrots call San Diego home. Reports of flocks of such parrots flourishing in Southern California (and elsewhere) date back to the 1960s. Fish and Game considers them to be naturalized species. And as with all wildlife, parrots and urban life don’t always mix. They fall prey to traffic, cats, dogs, and household pesticides. At times, parrot young are stolen from their treetop nests and kept as pets or sold into the retail cagebird trade.
And then, the malcontent have been known to draw down on them from time to time.
“To commit a crime like [shooting a parrot] only takes a minute,” Holmes says. “It’s going to be difficult to track someone like that down.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has posted a reward of $5000 for information leading to an arrest. On March 23rd, the Ocean Beach Town Council’s Facebook page posted an additional $6000 reward for information in the animal-cruelty case. The Department of Animal Services has set up a hotline number — 619-767-2766 — to report any suspicious activity, information, leads, or eyewitness accounts.
“Our hope?” Holmes says. “It’s that whoever it is will brag about it, or, that someone will see them doing it. We’re going to be dependent on that kind of information. We’ve got nothing right now,” he says, “but we’re continuing to investigate. We need someone to come forward at this point.”