This was no caffeine-infused brain-freeze hallucination. The tree was moving.
A woman stood on the sidewalk, taking a rather brave position under the tree's branches. I pulled my car over to get a closer look, and the sound completely overtook me. The woman shouted something to me, but even from 10 feet away I couldn't hear.
People use the word “deafening” a lot. It's hyperbole at best, unless they happen to be behind a jet aircraft as it takes off or are standing at the front of a Van Halen reunion concert. This was as close to deafening as one will get on a sleepy street in the mid-afternoon.
Sitting on nearly every branch of this tree were hundreds of green-bodied, red-headed parrots. Besides creating a commotion, they left black berries all over the lawn below them.
Joanne Provenzano stood in her doorway on the phone, shaking her head. It's her tree. They're not her parrots.
“It's kind of wild to see this going on,” she told me. “When they leave it looks like stealth bombers.”
For the past few months, this parrot population has picked from Provenzano's pepper tree. The berries they drop stain her sidewalk, so she has to hose it off if the squirrels don't do the job first. Though she's seen them before, she and her neighbors say this year's flock is unusually large.
They offered several theories as to the birds' origins. Some say their ancestors were freed in a pet store fire in the 1960s; others think they're from the old Busch Gardens' bird sanctuary in Van Nuys, which closed in the 1960s.
I even heard them linked to the Anheuser-Busch brewery itself, though I think this rumor fell victim to a game of telephone and started off as the bird sanctuary theory. I do like to picture some master brewer who, once his co-workers have left for the day, climbs to the brewery roof where he keeps an aviary full of brightly plumed minions.