Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Exotic" Parking Lot Birds

True birders are always birding; even in their office parking lots.  The office where I work has a covered area for management and executives...and several first-come-first-serve spaces for the early birds, like me.  In those short seconds from the time I park my car until I enter the building, I am birding.  Recently, I realized that all the birds I was seeing in the parking area were "exotics"; in other words, non-native species to Utah and many are introduced species to North America for that matter.  Besides the American Robin and fly-over birds, I have yet to see another native species in this particular parking lot.  Many of these non-native birds are nesting now and the level of activity and other side-effects has ramped up.

Ah, the Rock Pigeon!  I've got about a dozen of them nesting in the covered parking area of my office building.  They come in a splendid variety of plumages.  They are deeply appreciated the the company leadership as the the Pigeon's provide the luxury vehicles a nice not-so-protective coating of scat.  We also find broken eggs and even occasional dead squabs on the cold hard concrete.

Rock Pigeons likely came with the early pilgrims to the Americas and pretty much cover both North and South America except where it's too cold.  I've read that no one really knows their original range because they have been so closely tied to ancient humans through domestication.  I have seen them in more natural settings, like the rocky cliffs along the Boise and Snake Rivers.  Buildings make great make-shift cliffs, so man is providing abundant habitat and we therefore have an abundance of Rock Pigeons.
The House Sparrow was introduced into New York in the early 1850's.  (Read this interesting article debating how many Sparrows it took to start the millions we now "enjoy".)  They, like the Rock Pigeon, have spread across much of North and South America and seem to thrive in urban settings, even inside airports, home improvement and grocery stores.  I have found their nests in everything from store signage to rain gutters, from shrubbery to the roof trusses of a new home under construction.  I'm not certain, but it seems to me that they may have several broods each year.  Besides being brownish, House Sparrows are not at all closely related to the birds we know as sparrows in North America and are in a family of their own, the weaver finch.
European Starlings came to America in the 1890's by Shakespeare enthusiasts who thought they were doing the right thing by introducing North America to all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works. Now they are super-abundant in North America. South America at least avoided their introduction and Starlings don't appear to have made too much head-way into Central America.  Looking at eBird's global range maps, I find it interesting to see them in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, where I assume they were introduced by similar Shakespeare-minded folks.  These truly beautiful-in-their-own-way birds are loved-to-be-hated by birders and non-birders alike.  They nest in any cavity available, be it tree, building, or even operating machinery.

Some executives pathetic attempts at protecting their high-end automobiles from mountains of non-native bird poop.
I've seen California Quail run through the parking lot.  As far as I know, they are an introduced species to Utah too.  I found articles about them being introduced in Idaho around 1870 and I wouldn't doubt that they were introduced about that same time in the Salt Lake valley.  This is an introduced species that everybody just loves.  They are cute and have lots of cute babies and run around calling in our neighborhoods here in the western United States.

And last, but not least, this bird...

Peafowl are native to the region of India to Malaysia and have long been ornamental birds around the world.  This is the only bird discussed here today that is not officially "countable" for those of us who like to count countables.  They can and do establish feral populations, but most cannot sustain themselves without subsidies from mankind.  The bird pictured above hung out in our parking lot for a couple of days last week and really was the trigger for this post.

Native or non-native, birds are around us almost everywhere.  Why not enjoy them?!


  1. Wonderful post filled with interesting information! I never thought to go birding in a parking lot before. Yes, our feathered friends are everywhere!

  2. Always tough for me to accept these birds and enjoy them- BUT I've been coming around a bit. It's not like they are going to suddenly disappear, right?

  3. Robert, like you, I bird wherever I am. When visiting Maine recently I counted birds at the Dairy Whip in Norridgewock where we stopped to get lunch before proceeding to my in-laws. I happened to see a catbird there, among other species. Not a significant bird, but I discovered it was the first record of a catbird in Somerset County, ME for the year! So, you see, even the common birds deserve to be counted! Birding parking lots and other common places does matter! In fact, last December I counted the rock pigeons we saw near our motel in Skowhegan when we went up for Christmas and discovered I had the first record of that species for that year also! Amazing! Keep up the good work!

  4. Wow! That is one busy parking garage! The peacock looked particularly out of place!

  5. @Julie G - parking lot bird photography is a whole new challenge!

    @Mike B - there is no questions that these exotics are now a part of our ecosystem. If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em.

    @Kathiesbirds - Thanks for all the comments on the recent posts! "Always be birding!"

    @Shelly - I'm still trying to figure out where the peafowl came from.