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|Thick billed parrot - Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha |
The thick-billed parrot was once found in the high elevation pine forests of southern Arizona and
southwestern New Mexico. It is now only found in
highland forests, pine forests and foothills of
northern and central Mexico. Mainly, the Sierra Madre
of northwestern Mexico.
"It is late afternoon and we are standing near the
summit of a 9,000 foot peak in the northern Sierra
Madre Occidental in Mexico. A raucous call emanates
from the south and a single Thick-billed Parrot,
Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha, flies below us, northward
across the valley. The parrot moves powerfully in a
straight line, like a missile, calling all the wOur
journey to this spot began well before dawn in Portal,
Arizona. It has taken us across the deserts of
northern Chihuahua, through mud and rivers, up
precarious mountain roads, and into the high old
growth pine forests so crucial for these birds and so
endangered by relentless logging. We have come to
observe the Thickbills in their most northerly nesting
habitat presently known and to reflect on how they
live, why they disappeared from the United States and
on what the future may hold for them.
Thick-billed Parrots and the extinct Carolina
Parakeets are the only parrots whose natural ranges
included the continental United States. The stronghold
of the Thick-billed Parrots, has always been the
Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, but the species was
also found in substantial numbers in south-eastern
Arizona and south-western New Mexico in earlier times.
While breeding colonies were never formally recorded
north of the border, these birds were annually seen in
good numbers during breeding season in the Chiricahua
Mountains, making it likely that they did, in fact,
raise families in the United States.
Thick-billed Parrots suffered massively from shooting
in the U.S. and were essentially gone from U.S.
territory by 1920. Their garrulousness, relatively
large size and tame inquisitive behaviour, sadly made
them easy targets for subsistence-hunting prospectors
and other early settlers. Occasional sighting
continued until 1938 in Arizona and until 1964 in New
Mexico, but no parrots were recorded thereafter until
a few captives were released to the wild in the late
Thick-billed Parrots, have become endangered in their
remaining Mexican strongholds, principally because of
extensive lumbering of old-growth pine forests. Where
flocks of thousands once flew, now only about
500-2,000 pairs survive in the wild. Numbers in
captivity have been hard to document, as almost all
were captured illegally.
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