Thick-billed Parrot

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Thick-billed Parrot

Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha

ListedJune 2, 1970
FamilyPsittacidae (Parrot)
DescriptionGreen parrot with black bill and red forehead and forewing.
HabitatConifer and mixed conifer-deciduous forests.
FoodConifer cones, acorns, juniper berries.
ThreatsLow numbers; collectors; habitat destruction.
RangeMexico (Sierra Madre Occidental)


The thick-billed parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha ) is mostly green with red patches on the forehead and forewing. It grows to a length of about 16 in (40.6 cm) and has a wingspan of 8-10 in (20.3-25.4 cm). The tail is long and pointed; the large, hooked bill is black in adults, pale in young birds. In flight, a yellow stripe on the underwings is conspicuous.


The thick-billed parrot is a strong flyer, attaining speeds approaching 50 mph (80.5 kph). It makes regular flights of 6-12 mi (9.7-19.3 km) searching for food. The parrot feeds primarily on conifer cones, but also eats acorns and juniper berries. It nests in naturally occurring tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker cavities.


In 1986 a flock of thick-billed parrots was reintroduced to southeastern Arizona in habitat similar to that favored by the Mexican population. The flock was established in the Chiricahua Mountains within the Coronado National Forest at elevations of 6,600-9,800 ft (2,011.7-2,987 m). The higher mountain slopes are covered with mature pine, fir, spruce, and aspen. Lower elevations are dominated by various oak species mixed with conifers. In winter, overnight temperatures can drop considerably below freezing.


The thick-billed parrot is principally a native of Mexico, but small populations once inhabited Arizona and New Mexico. It was a seasonal resident in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The species disappeared from the United States in the early 1900s, when it was hunted for food by miners and woodsmen. Much of its montane forest habitat was destroyed to provide lumber for mining operations.

Thick-billed parrots are now found in the Sierra Madre of western Mexico. The small Arizona flock, now numbering about a dozen parrots, winters in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona within the Coronado National Forest. During the summer the flock migrates 250 mi (402.3 km) to the northwest to the Mogollon Rim of central Arizona.


Increased collection of wild thick-billed parrots for sale in the pet trade, coupled with the continued destruction of mountain forest habitat, has dimmed the prospects for the survival of the species in Mexico.

Conservation and Recovery

In 1986, using birds confiscated from smugglers, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service, released 26 parrots in the Chiricahua Mountains. Some of these parrots were lost to raptors, others flew to Mexico, but about half remained in Arizona. Over the next two years the flock established a migratory pattern, wintering in the Chiricahua Mountains and moving to the Mogollon Rim of central Arizona during the summer.

The size of the flock has remained around 12, with new releases replacing parrots lost to raptors. In 1988 two young birds, distinguished by their pale bills, were seen, indicating that at least one pair had bred successfully in the wild. A separate release program, using captive-bred, hand-reared parrots, was not successful. On release, the parrots made no attempt to flock and, although they had been fed on pinecones for six months prior to release, did not try to feed. A captive-bred but parent-reared bird was also released with this group. It immediately joined the wild flock upon release. Future releases will be limited to parent-reared birds. The main problem now facing the release program is obtaining a supply of parrots. Those confiscated from smugglers are often in poor physical condition, their flight feathers having been pulled or cut to prevent their escape. A number of private breeders and zoosincluding the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, the San Diego Zoo, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Sacramento Zoo, the Gladys Porter Zoo, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Bronx Zoo, and the Salt Lake City Zooare working to provide a steady supply of healthy thick-billed parrots. With an increased supply of captive-bred parrots, the Thick-Billed Parrot Project expects to move toward larger and more regular releases in the future.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
P.O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103-1306
Telephone: (505) 248-6911
Fax: (505) 248-6915


Lanning, D.V., and J.T. Shiflett. 1983. "Nesting Ecology of Thick-Billed Parrots." Condor 85: 66-73.

Wetmore, A. 1935. "The Thick-Billed Parrot in Southern Arizona." Condor 37: 18-21.