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Rock pigeons are invasive birds that originated in Europe. California Wildlife Center photos
A rock pigeon lakeside with native geese and mallard.
Samantha Orzech, Wildlife Tech, California Wildlife Center
4:31 pm PDT May 27, 2020

California is home to many different species of animals. Whether domestic or wild, it’s not uncommon to see animals roaming everywhere. Typically, when you spot wildlife in your day-to-day life, that wildlife will be native to your region. However, not all species you see in your backyard are native wildlife. In fact, there are many species seen in Malibu that are invasive.

But what is an invasive species? By definition, an invasive species is an organism that causes ecological hardship to native species. And in California, many kinds of invasive species are taking over territory and food sources of our local wildlife.

When an invasive species is introduced to a new territory they may not have predators that keep the population in check, thus creating a drain on natural resources. A lack of predators will cause the population of the invasive species to grow and, in some cases, begin to outnumber the native wildlife in the area. Native species have a checks and balances system that allows the ecosystem to thrive; however, invasive species often throw off that delicate natural balance. Often this will cause the people living these areas to become more familiar with the invasive species than they realize. 

When sitting on the patio of your favorite restaurant, you are likely to see a rock pigeon or a house sparrow darting away with a dropped french fry. And while this is a situation that happens often enough to assume they are native wildlife, this isn’t actually the case; rock pigeons and house sparrows in fact originated in Europe! Both of these species have made themselves quite comfortable in the urban setting here in the United States — so much so that they have both out competed our local wildlife in cities all over the country. You’re much more likely to see a rock pigeon than its native cousin, the band-tailed pigeon.

The question this raises is how invasive species make their way into new territory? Though some species do migrate from time to time, many non-native species actually started out as household pets. For example, it’s common to see parrots in Pasadena and peacocks in Alhambra. These animals have been able to adapt to a drastic change in environment and thrive. And they’re not the only ones.

A common example of an invasive species is the red-eared slider. You may have seen these red-eared reptiles any time you’ve visited a lake. Red-eared sliders were first introduced to the area as a household pet, and they are commonly released into ponds and waterways by neglectful owners. Because of this, the red-eared slider has out competed the native Western pond turtle. Our native Western pond turtles are now considered a species of special concern according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and their numbers have dwindled due to habitat loss and human interference. Due to the impact that red-eared sliders have on the allocation of resources our native turtles now struggle to live alongside these unintentional invaders. However, non-native wildlife aren’t the only species that have negative effects on their native counterparts.

A group of non-native species that may surprise you would be cats and dogs. Quite often our own beloved family members injure and kill local wildlife. In fact, cats and dogs are responsible for injuring a large number of patients we see at our center. In this way, common pets create a direct threat to native wildlife populations, almost as much as non-native wildlife.

So how can we help our native species thrive in this ever changing world? Here are some recommendations: keep your cats indoors, keep your dogs on leash while out, keeping an eye out for any young wildlife in your backyard and keeping your pets away from them until they are fully independent. Often the young wildlife that is brought to our center have in fact been pulled from their homes and families due to a misunderstanding on how the species grows and gains independence. If you have an unwanted pet, instead of releasing it into a pond or into the wild please take it to your local animal shelter. There they can receive proper treatment and hopefully find a new home without disrupting the local wildlife in the area. These are just a few ways to help native wildlife overcome the hardships they face, and together we can all work towards helping our native wildlife thrive in the territories they call home.

Rock pigeons are invasive birds that originated in Europe.

A rock pigeon lakeside with native geese and mallard.