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Thick-billed Parrot

 (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha)
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© Javier Cruz

Project Status: Active | 2002 - 2007


Monterrey Tech (ITESM), San Diego Zoo, Pro Natura International, Donner Canadian Foundation, Keith Ewart Charitable Trust

Thick-billed Parrots at risk from human pressures

With a population of less than 4000, the Thick-billed Parrot (Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha) struggles against the loss and degradation of its habitat.

Project and progress:  In 2002 a WPT grant was given to the Conservation Program for the Thick-billed Parrot run by Claudia Macias and Ernesto Enkerlin-Hoeflich, Ph.D. of ITESM (Monterrey Institute of Technology).  WPT funded:

  • Documentation of nesting areas
  • Researching causes of chick mortality
  • Provision of nest boxes
  • Translocations
  • Researching habitat requirements
  • Disease screening and gene studies
  • Recovery meetings
  • Education

Outcomes: Thick-billed Parrot preservation now relies on efforts to protect habitat and manage breeding.  The Conservation Program for the Thick-billed Parrot aimed to study the breeding biology and habitat requirements for the species through monitoring nesting effort and success in known breeding areas.  Work has also included disease screening and documenting chick mortality causes, diet requirements, and bird movements. The World Parrot Trust has funded studies to evaluate the long-term effects of translocation and habitat requirements for these parrots. WPT also funded the installation and general support of nest boxes to increase reproductive capacity, and critical genetics studies by Dr. Tim Wright of New Mexico State University to determine how closely related the wild birds are, a possible detriment to their breeding and recovery. Long-term aid will focus on developing a habitat reserve, fostering local education initiatives, and encouraging sustainable resource use by local residents.

In 2005, ITESM, Pro Natura, and WPT co-hosted meetings to discuss solutions for the recovery of the species.  The meeting included many parrot researchers and several other government and nongovernment organizations from both sides of the border. Subsequent meetings focused on further planning. In 2007 ITESM, Pro Natura and WPT conducted aerial surveys to evaluate suitable habitat and potential new release sites in N Chihuahua and Arizona. 

In the late 1980s and early 1990s three releases of confiscated and captive-bred birds were attempted in the US.  These were partly successful, with some birds making their way back to Mexico and others possibly attempting to breed in Arizona.


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IUCN/CITES Status: Endangered / Appendix I

World population: 1000 - 4000

Where found: The highlands of Mexico in central and northern regions. Re-introduced to S Arizona, but some returned to Mexico.

History: The Thick-billed Parrot is confined to the Sierra Madre Occidental, Mexico, in NE Sonora, W Chihuahua, and south and west Durango and Michoacán. Smaller populations have been found in Sinaloa and Jalisco.  Birds migrate to the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Colima and Michoacán (Ortiz Maciel and Cruz Nieto 2004). It formerly was found in Arizona and New Mexico, but was gone by the early 1990s (Ortiz Maciel and Cruz Nieto 2004). In Mexico the population was estimated at less than 5000 birds by 1992 (Specimens in UMSNH per A. T. Peterson in litt. 1999), and 1,000-4,000 in 1995 (Lammertink et al. 1996).  By 2004 the population was estimated to total 3000-6000 birds (Ortiz Maciel and Cruz Nieto 2004). Local residents have noted a general decline in flocks both in sizes and sightings.  They have noted the loss of some local groups as well. (Ortiz Maciel, Cruz Nieto 2004).


  • Degradation and loss of pine habitat from drug growing and cattle grazing
  • Loss of forest from fires and logging
  • Loss of aspen nest trees
  • Illegal trade in the species

Ecology: The Thick-billed Parrot is found in the highlands of Mexico in the central and northern regions.  It was also formerly found in S Arizona. This species prefers mature upland primary growth pine forests in elevations from 1500-3000m (4920-9840 ft) where its primary food source, pine seed, seeds and buds of Pseudotsuga, fruits of Prunus capuli and acorns, occurs.  Birds range widely after breeding and are found in flocks with communal roosting in inaccessible cliffs or densely packed trees. Foraging trips are up to 40 km in a day.

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