Thick-billed parrots are highly social and live in flocks of up to 1,000 birds. They nest in tree cavities, frequently those left by woodpeckers. Thick-bills also roost in cliffs. Outside of the breeding season, thick-bills are nomadic and travel to find pinecones for food. In winter, they migrate to a more southern area of Mexico.
The thick-bill’s preferred food is pine seeds, which it extracts from pinecones using its bill, tongue, and foot—an intricate procedure. Thick-bills forage in flocks, starting at the tops of trees and working their way down. They also eat acorns and other seeds, juniper berries, and agave nectar.
Nesting season lasts from mid-summer to mid-fall, corresponding to peak pine seed production. Pairs are monogamous and remain together year-round and possibly for life. They build their nest high in a conifer tree, and the female lays two to three eggs from mid-July to late August. Young hatch in about 26 days and fledge in about 65 days. Fledglings remain dependent on their parents for several months after leaving the nest. It can take months for chicks to learn how to extract pine seeds from a pinecone. Thick-bills reach maturity by 5 years old and can live in captivity for more than 30 years.
Some of My Neighbors
Red-tailed hawks, northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, mule deer, chipmunks, collared peccaries, coatis, jaguars, coyotes, wild turkeys, golden eagles, pumas
Population Status & Threats
The thick-bill’s range once extended into New Mexico and Arizona, making it the only parrot with a natural range in the continental United States. Decimated by hunting and logging of pine forests, the bird was eliminated in the U.S. by the mid-twentieth century. Their large size, gregarious and noisy habits, and tame nature made thick-bills particularly vulnerable to hunting. Today, the population continues to hold on in Mexico with a small but declining population, estimated at fewer than 250 mature individuals. The major threat is the timber industry in the Sierra Madres, which logs the bird’s prime nesting sites. The birds are also threatened by trapping for the pet trade. Re-introduction efforts in the U.S. have largely failed.
WCS Conservation Efforts
In 1991, WCS introduced the idea of linking ongoing conservation efforts in Mexico and Central American countries. Since then, governments and agencies have followed along with this idea to incorporate corridors between conservation areas and working together across borders.