Thick-billed Parrot

Bright green parrot with red on top of wings and head, sitting on a branch in front of a green, leafy background.
Thick-billed Parrots use their strong beaks to pry seeds out of pine cones. They also occasionally eat acorns and pine buds.

Wiki Commons/Futureman1199

Imagine hiking through Echo Canyon, or along the Big Balanced Rock Trail, and all of a sudden, above you, is a large V-shaped flock of colorful green and red birds. The birds fly towards a canyon filled with pine trees, land, and begin to harvest seeds from the pinecones. Their thick bills help them break through, and they call loudly to one another, and alert each other to the danger of predators, like hawks. You could have seen this impressive sight if you were exploring the Chiricahua Mountains before 1938, when the last wild flocks of Thick-billed Parrots (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha) in the United States were reported.

One of two native North American parrots, flocks of Thick-billed Parrots once roamed the Sky Islands of the American Southwest, foraging for pinecone seeds at elevations between 6,000-9,000 feet. This parrot is adapted to cold, snowy winters, and often uses old woodpecker holes to nest. The parrots are noisy, which made them easy for hunters to follow and shoot, usually for food, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The birds weigh about a pound.
 
Colorful painting of two North American parrots. Top one is smaller, green and has yellow on head. Lower parrot is green and has red on wings and head.
Canadian Allan Brooks painted the two North American parrot species. The top bird, the Carolina Parakeet, went extinct in the 1930s, and the lower Thick-billed Parrot is no longer found in the United States, but still exists in Mexico.

Public Domain/Allan Brooks

Conservationists attempted to reintroduce Thick-billed Parrots into Arizona in the 1980s and 1990s, but had very little success. Thick-billed Parrots do not reproduce well in captivity, and when captive-bred birds were released in the wild, they did not know how to forage for food or flock together to avoid predators. Many of the released birds were killed by hawks since the smaller flock was easy prey. The last reintroduced parrot was seen in 1995.

While the Carolina Parakeet (the other North American parrot) is now extinct, the Thick-billed Parrot is considered locally extinct (extinct in its US range). Wild populations of Thick-billed Parrots still exist in Mexico, but are threatened by habitat loss (mostly due to logging), illegal pet trade, and climate change (which could limit the range of the pine trees they rely on, as well as increase the chances for devastating fires that could destroy their habitat). The American Bird Conservancy estimates the thick-billed parrot population to be around 2,500 birds, and it is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resource (IUNC).

The Chiricahua Mountains do have a bird species that was sucessfully reintroduced, though. The Gould's Turkey was hunted close to extinction in the United States, before the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the National Wild Turkey Federation began reintroducing turkeys from Mexico in the early 2000s.

Last updated: August 1, 2018

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