Scientific Name: Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha
The thick-billed parrot is one of only two parrot species that were once found in the United States. The other, the Carolina parakeet, became extinct in February 1918. No reliable sightings of the thick-billed parrot have been seen in the United States since the early 1990s.
As with most parrots, thick-billed parrots are highly social; they travel, feed, and roost in flocks. They live at high altitudes and don’t seem to mind the cold or snow; as such, they have sometimes been called snow parrots.
STATUS: The thick-billed parrot is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to ongoing habitat loss. Estimates of population range from 2,000 to 6,000 individuals.
HABITAT: These birds prefer the mature pine, fir, and pine-oak forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental eco-region of Mexico at 3,600 to 12,000 feet. The birds nest in tree cavities, and flocks have been known to roost on cliffs. Historically, the range of these parrots extended into southern Arizona and New Mexico
DIET: The thick-billed parrot primarily feeds on pine seeds and acorns, though they will supplement their diet with juniper berries, conifer buds, agave nectar, and insect larvae.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: This monogamous parrot is a medium-sized (roughly 15 inches) bright green bird with a large, black bill and red fore-crown, shoulders, and thighs. Adults have amber eyes, and juveniles have brown eyes. Males and females look alike.
Hoping for Habitat
While both the Mexican and United States’ governments, along with many non-government conservation organizations, are cooperating to try to save much of the remaining habitat for the thick-billed parrot, the heavy logging of the mature trees required for cavity nesting and food in the Sierra Madre Occidental region has greatly reduced the parrots’ range, leaving less than 10% of the original forest cover.
Captive breeding has been successful for this endangered bird, but reintroductions of the captive-bred birds into former areas of the U.S. have been unsuccessful due to heavy predation, close proximity to human habitation, and the fact that the parents have to teach the chicks how to extract the pine seeds from the cones, something the captive bred parents do not know how to do.
Hopefully enough habitat will be saved to allow the remaining wild population to survive.