Home | Bird Research or Recent News | The USA’s “Other” Parrot – the Thick Billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha

The USA’s “Other” Parrot – the Thick Billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha

Many know the sad story Thick-Billed Parrotof the extinction of the USA’s only native breeding parrot, the Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis.  The last known specimen of this species died in 1918, in the Cincinnati Zoo.  However, a spectacular, pigeon-sized parrot once frequented the mountains of southern Arizona and New Mexico, gorging on pine cones before migrating south to breed.

Last observed in the USA around 1935, the Thick-Billed Parrot ranged from Mexico to Venezuela, but is now largely confined to the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains in northern Mexico.  Brilliant green with a bright red forehead and wing curve, Thick-Billed Parrots dwell at elevations up to 11,500 feet above sea level, and often forage in snow-covered trees.

Pine tree seeds are their main food – so much so that breeding is timed to their availability – and it is for this resource that flocks of over 1,000 foraged for several months each year in our southwestern mountain ranges.  Journal entries of naturalists of the time reflect the shock experienced upon encountering a thousand large, gaudy “tropical-looking” parrots in the snows high in the mountains of Arizona.  Thick-Billed Parrots also rely heavily upon acorns, and take other seeds, fruits, vegetables and insects as well.

Now drastically reduced in numbers, Thick-Billed Parrots are the subject of a zoo-based Species Survival Plan – a cooperative breeding effort seeking to ensure their survival, and are kept in private aviculture as well.  NYC’s Queens Zoo has a nice group in a large, outdoor exhibit – their raucous calls and constant activity render them among the most popular of exhibits.

The USA, especially Florida, is now home to a number of introduced parrot species, many of which breed here (please see my article on Monk Parrots).

You can read about conservation efforts for wild Thick-Billed Parrots in Mexico at:

Image referenced from one taken by LTshears in Wikipedia Commons.

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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