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Conservation News – No Recovery Plan for the Endangered Thick Billed Parrot

Thick Billed ParrotsI’ve been involved in a number of field research efforts, and so am somewhat familiar with the difficulties inherent in funding and implementing conservation work.  However, I must admit that this situation is baffling – a recovery plan has not yet been formulated for the Thick Billed Parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha), despite the fact that the bird has been protected by the Endangered Species Act since the law’s inception in 1973!

Help for the US’s Last Native Parrot?

The Thick Billed Parrot is the only remaining Psittacine native to the US Mainland.  The other, the Carolina Parakeet, was hunted to extinction in the early 1900’s.  With less than 3,000 individuals surviving in the wild, this green and red parrot may be headed for a similar fate if remedial action is not undertaken soon.

To that end, the conservation organization WildEarth Guardians has filed suit against Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, seeking to compel the implementation of a recovery plan.  Let’s hope for a “parrot-friendly” outcome!

Wild and Captive Status

Audubon's Carolina ParakeetsThick Billed Parrots regularly ranged into central Arizona and New Mexico until the early 1900’s, and sporadically until the mid 1960’s.  Today they are virtually unknown within US borders.  A reintroduction plan instituted by the state of Arizona was not successful.

Although far from common in captivity, the birds do breed well when properly provided for… a group I’ve watched for years is a star attraction at the Queens Zoo in New York City.  Private keepers have had some success with this species as well, and even provided several of the individuals released in Arizona.

Further Reading

Please see The USA’s “Other” Parrot for more information on this fascinating bird (it forages in the snow!).

Please visit the WildEarth Guardians Website for more on the group’s work with Parrots, Jaguarundis, Tortoises and other animals.


Thick-billed Parrots image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Paul Reynolds and Snowmanradio

Parrot Conservation in Australia, New Zealand and the Southwest Pacific

Most aviculturists are aware that most parrot species face threats to their continued survival in the wild.  However, I sometimes feel that the successes that we have had both in and out of captivity blinds us to the fact that a great many, including several that are well-established in the pet trade, are still declining in the wild.

Parrot Central

KakapoThe region extending from New Zealand northwest through Australia to New Guinea and the islands of Indonesia is home to the world’s greatest diversity of parrots, with over one half of the known genera represented.  Conservation efforts are most effective in Australia and New Zealand, but less in evidence in New Guinea and islands in the Southwest Pacific.

Threatened Species

Of the many parrot species in need of attention in the area, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers 20 to be threatened with.  Particularly troublesome is the fact that almost half of these are listed as either “Endangered” or Critically Endangered”, including the New Caledonian, Kuhl’s and Ultramarine Lorikeets, the Night, Orange-bellied and Golden-shouldered Parrots, the Forbes’ and Orange-fronted Parakeets and the Kakapo.


Habitat Loss

CockatooHabitat loss and alteration is the gravest threats facing Australia’s parrots.  The felling of old trees bearing suitable hollows for nesting is particularly serious, as many parrots have specific requirements as to the size, height and location of nesting hollows, and will not utilize alternatives.  Especially hard hit have been Baudin’s, Carnaby’s and Mitchell’s Cockatoos, but most others are affected as well.

The loss of unique feeding habitats, especially lightly wooded grasslands, has severely impacted superb and swift parrot numbers.  These fertile areas are scarce in Australia, and most have long been converted to agricultural use.

The spread of agriculture and the introduction of exotic plants has benefitted those parrots that have been able to adapt to new diets.  Included among these are Galahs, Long-billed Corellas and Turquoise Parakeets.  However, these species are thriving at the expense of others, and their unnaturally high numbers radically upset the normal species compositions of their habitats.

Livestock and Kangaroos

Centuries of intensive grazing by introduced domestic and feral animals such as rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats and camels has rendered natural plant and tree re-growth impossible in many regions.  Populations of native kangaroos have skyrocketed in those places where permanent water holes have been established for livestock, adding to the overgrazing problem.


Certain parrots rely upon fire to spur the reproduction of food plants, while others inhabit stable environments that rarely experience natural fires.  Human engineered fire use – burning off brush in some habitats while suppressing natural fires in others, threatens parrots in both categories.  Night, Princess, Golden-shouldered and Orange-bellied Parrots have declined radically due to changes in fire frequency.

Islands of the Southwest Pacific

While logging is a grave concern on the Solomon Islands and elsewhere, introduced predators account for the greatest losses in this region.  Five parrot species on New Zealand alone owe their threatened status to non-native predators such as Brush-tailed Possums, cats, black and Norway Rats, ferrets and stoats.

It often surprises those unfamiliar with the region that hunting is still a concern in New Guinea.  The highly endangered palm cockatoo is a much valued food item in some areas, and Pesquet’s Parrots are frequently killed for their plumage.

Further Reading

You can learn what the IUCN is doing to help conserve parrots in the Southwest Pacific here.


Kakapo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mnolf
Cockatoo image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio

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