Thursday, April 2, 2015
Birds on the Line: Thick-billed Parrots
This year I will be talking about some of the many birds you will encounter as you walk down the World Bird Sanctuary’s exhibit line just beyond the Wildlife Hospital. The first bird I have chosen to talk about is not an individual, but an entire flock. They are the Thick-billed Parrots that live on the exhibit line in a large flight cage.
Closeup of one member of our Thick-bill flock (photo: Cathy Spahn)
The Thick-billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha, is a highly endangered species. They are the only remaining parrot that is Native to the United States. They were originally found in Arizona and Mexico. Today they are only found in Mexico.
Our free flying flock of Thick-billed Parrots (photo: Gay Schroer)
The wild population of this amazing bird number only 500 to 2,000. The Thick-billed Parrots that we have at the World Bird Sanctuary are mostly from confiscated birds that were brought into the United States illegally. Some individuals are from other collections of single birds, and a few in the flock have hatched at World Bird Sanctuary.
In the United States, the Thick-billed Parrot was hunted to extinction. In Mexico, the biggest threats to the existing Thick-bill populations are logging and trapping for the pet trade. Logging has changed the composition of the forests and decreased the Juniper forest, which provides food and nesting cavities for these parrots. Insects have increased due to climate change created by the logging, which in turn changes the habitat. The climate change and damage to the forest from both insects and logging have then resulted in an increase in the number of forest fires. The increase of fires to the forests and the increase in insect populations may cause the biggest threat to the Thick-bills.
A pair of Thick-bill sitting on a branch in their flight cage (photo: Cathy Spahn)
Thick-billed Parrots may be identified by their bright green color, large black bill, the distinctive red crown, shoulders and thighs, and the yellow patch under the wings. They live at high elevations (6,000 feet and higher) in the pine forests in the mountains of Mexico. They are also known as the Christmas Parrot, because of their colors and the fact that they will often play in the snow.
Efforts are under way in Mexico to try to save this species, and groups here in the United States are again working to try to figure out a way to reintroduce birds into their former habitat in Arizona. In the late 1980’s World Bird Sanctuary helped the Arizona Fish and Game Department, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service with efforts to reintroduce Thick-billed Parrots back into the mountains of Arizona. Several youngsters produced from WBS’s flock were released to the wild. However, for various reasons, the reintroduction did not work. Hopefully this time, having learned from the former attempt, we will have more success.
A pair of Thick-bills peeking out from their nest box at WBS (photo: Cathy Spahn)
Here at the World Bird Sanctuary we have a large enclosure with a free flying flock of Thick-billed Parrots. It’s always a treat to watch them flying and interacting with each other as they would in the wild. During the winter you may see them early in the morning as they leave their night roosts looking for breakfast. They are often heard more than seen. They love their nest boxes and can often be heard “laughing” (yes, their voice sometimes sounds like a human laughing) inside the boxes. They also like to sit in pairs high in the cage, so be sure to look up.
Arizona, WBS’s Education Ambassador (photo: Gay Schroer)
During the summer you can also meet Arizona, a Thick-billed Parrot that is one of our Education Department birds. He lives in the Nature Center and likes to greet our visitors when he is not traveling to one of our outreach programs. Arizona, as well as all of our other resident animals, is available for adoption as part of our Adopt A Bird program. If you choose to adopt Arizona your adoption donation will help to feed, house, and care for him throughout the coming year. Of course, if you are so inclined, there is always the option to adopt the whole flock!
Submitted by Cathy Spahn, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist