Mexico: Stop the extinction of the Thick-billed Parrot

Unlike most parrot species which live in tropical habitats at low
elevation, are sedentary or short distance migrants and are
territorial, Thick-billed Parrots Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha live
above 1500m in temperate forests, are migratory and nomadic in winter
when food becomes short, and are social at all seasons.

Determinedly
different, they live in the conifer forests of the mountains of the
Sierra Madre Occidental, a range of rugged mountains 100 to 200 km
wide and 1200 km long running parallel to the Pacific Ocean and
extending from northwest Chihuahua and Sonora to the central part of
Michoacán in Mexico. Until relatively recently Thick-billed Parrots
ranged as far north as southern Arizona in the United States where it
probably bred until the early 1900s [it’s interesting to note though
that Dr Alan Lurie and Dr Noel Snyder writing in the World Parrot
Trust’s ‘PsittaScene’ magazine in Feb 2001 said that “breeding
colonies were never formally recorded north of the [Mexican] border”
though the article does go on to say that “good numbers were seen in
[Arizona’s] Chiricahua Mountains making it likely that they did indeed
raise families in the United States”].

Extensively shot throughout its
small North American range (it was also found in New Mexico at one
time) the parrot was extirpated from Arizona by the 1920s, and
whatever its recent status in the US the breeding range is now
restricted to the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Durango. Recently
designated as Endangered by Birdlife International it’s illuminating
to discover – given how much we all seem to know (or to be able to
find on the web) about so many bird species now – just how little data
concerning population numbers exists. Writing in the third edition of
his superb magnum opus “Parrots of the World”, Joseph Forshaw wrote
that “”Edwards (1972) claims that they are moderately common” and he
states that Robert Ridgely in 1977 wrote in litt that “…logging has,
over the past century, removed from many districts most or all mature
trees…[and] it is probable that the parrots have declined in numbers”.
Nearly all recent nests have been found above 2400m, and the species
is dependent on high-elevation pines for both nesting cavities (which
were often originally excavated by woodpeckers) and for food (the
species feeds predominantly on pine and fir cones, though acorns and
other seeds are eaten as well) and – as Ridgely suspected –
Thick-billed Parrots have suffered massively as the region’s forests
have been systematically cut down. While they can apparently persist
in partly-logged areas so long as there are a few large nest trees, it
is more abundant in large old-growth forests – and most of those
old-growth forests no longer exist. Less than 10% of the original (ie
old-growth) forest in the Sierra Madre Occidental ecoregion now
remains. As an indication just how severe logging in the region was in
the latter half of the twentieth century, in 1979 a pulp mill in
Chihuahua was consuming 1.800 tonnes of wood per day. In some areas
nests occur preponderantly in snags of Douglas Fir and Mexican White
Pine, while in Madera the parrots mainly use Aspens.

Typically
commercial logging operations throughout the Sierra Madre has involved
the removal of the larger pines of all three species, and standing
dead wood has been cut leaving few snags. Specific data isn’t
available but it’s impossible to think that such intensive logging
isn’t the reason for the steep decline of this beautiful and very
specialised species. Of the 22 parrot species found in Mexico, seven
are listed by BirdLife International as either endangered or
vulnerable. It’s not just habitat destruction that has led to this:
huge numbers of wild parrots – including Thick-billeds – have been
captured by professional trappers or by locals who keep the birds for
themselves. The smuggling of wild parrots into the US from Mexico has
been called the second-largest illegal border business next to drug
smuggling.http://10000birds.com/thick-billed-parrot-mexico-and-beyond.htm
— Posted to http://forestpolicyresearch.com via gmail to posterous and
also to forestpolicyresearch@yahoogroups.com

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Comments (2)

JillJanuary 24th, 2009 at 3:31 am

Thank you for this very interesting Article, whats heartbreaking is how they suffer in the pet trade..birds from all over the world.

KristinNovember 24th, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Very interesting article and it’s crazy how we now have so many non-native species of parrot and parakeet living in many U.S. states. (Also, not to be nit-picky, but the photo of the two parrots on the branch is not actually of thick-billed parrots but of two red-masked parakeets).

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