Most of the thick-billed parrots body is coloured apple green this helps them to blend in amongst the pine needles where the live. Across the face, at the top of the wing and in a ring around the leg is a red stripe. The amber eye is surrounded by a circle of lemon-yellow skin. Their feet, claws and beak are coloured black. The underside of the wing is yellow in colour. The underside of the tail is black.
They are 38-43cm (15-17in) tall. On average they weigh between 314 and 373g (11-13 ounces).
Thick-billed parrots are omnivores. The majority of their diet is composed of pine seeds but they also feed upon seeds, berries, fruit, insects, agave nectar and tree bark. Their thick bill is capable of breaking through pretty much every nut.
Feeding on pine seeds is a difficult skill which parents must put considerable effort into teaching their chicks this art. They shred the pinecone with their beak starting at the base and moving to the top in a spiral fashion removing all the seeds as they go.
On occasion thick-billed parrots have been known to eat snow as a source of water.
Thick-billed parrots are now only found in Northern Mexico. Previously they were also found in Arizona and New Mexico. They were one of only two parrot species found in the United States (the other being the California parakeet).
During the 1980s an attempt was made at reintroducing these birds to Arizona. Due to high numbers of predator these birds were extinct again by 1995.
They make their home in the mountain pine, conifer and fir forests. They live at elevations of 1200-3600m (3940-11,800ft).
Breeding occurs from July to September which lines up with the point when pine seeds are most abundant. After a pair mate the female lays up to four eggs in a tree hollow. Some pairs will mate for life. They will generally enlarge the hollow they chose by chewing the bark and then spitting it out. A number of birds may nest in the same tree. These are incubated for between 24 and 28 days.
Juvenile thick-billed parrots have brown eyes and a paler beak. The red stripe on the wing is green on juveniles.
Once they hatch both parents care for the chicks. Two to three months after hatching the chicks are ready to take their first flights and begin to leave the nest. It may take up to a year though to learn how to feed on pine seeds and stop relying on their parents for food.
Maturity is achieved at seven months old.
Thick-billed parrots live in flocks which may number from 12 to 1,000 birds. These groups have a pecking order which determines a set of rules that each bird must follow. In the past flocks numbering many thousands were not uncommon but they are seldom seen now. When flying they generally form a V pattern.
When in flight they make a vocalization which sounds like a laughing child. Their call can be heard up to 3.2km (2 miles) away.
Predators of the thick-billed parrot include goshawks, red tailed hawks and ring tailed cats.
The “Rhynchopsitta” portion of their scientific name comes the Ancient greek words “rhynchose” meaning beak and “psitta” meaning parrot.
Smuggling parrots across the US-Mexico border is the second largest illegal trade after the drug trade.
By Jenni Douglas from Edinburgh, Scotland (Thick billed Parrot Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tim Lenz from Ithaca (Thick-billed Parrots Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
BirdLife International 2017. Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha (amended version of 2016 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T22685766A110475642. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-1.RLTS.T22685766A110475642.en. Downloaded on 21 April 2020.
Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2020. Thick-Billed Parrot | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/thick-billed-parrot> [Accessed 21 April 2020].
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