Thick-billed Parrot tracking project launched

Thick-billed Parrot
A Thick-billed Parrot prior to being released in Mexico. Photo by Yvette Kemp/San Diego Zoo Global

Only two parrot species occurred naturally in the continental United States before European settlement: Carolina Parakeet, which was declared extinct in 1939, and the endangered Thick-billed Parrot. It still exists in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains of western Mexico, but its range at one time extended into Arizona, New Mexico, far western Texas, and possibly Utah. The last reliable reports were in the late 1930s in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona; a reintroduction in the late 1980s and early 1990s failed.

Thick-billed Parrot is believed to number no more than 2,000-2,800 mature birds.

Recently, conservationists traveled to one of the few remaining old-growth forests in Mexico to begin tracking the species. They fitted 10 birds with miniaturized tracking devices and released them. The goal is to learn more about the movements of the parrots in hopes of informing conservation efforts to save the species.

Lots to learn

“Thick-billed Parrots are long-lived and highly social birds that migrate seasonally from their primary breeding (summering) grounds in the Mexican state of Chihuahua to wintering areas farther south, possibly traveling many hundreds of kilometers between these sites,“ said James Sheppard, Ph.D., a recovery ecology scientist at San Diego Zoo Global. “Unfortunately, the exact locations of their winter habitats are largely unknown. Efforts to conserve and restore Thick-billed Parrot populations will be stymied without better understanding of parrot migratory patterns, resource selection, and habitat use.”

The researchers placed location transmitters on parrots — including chicks raised in artificial nest boxes as well as some adults. The transmitters, which have been tested on individual birds living at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, are lightweight and should not affect the flight or movement of the youngsters as they leave the nest, researchers said. Funding for the transmitters was raised through the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy.

“In the coming months, we hope to get a detailed picture of Thick-billed Parrot spatial ecology and habitat use,” said Allison Alberts, Ph.D., chief conservation and research officer, San Diego Zoo Global. “San Diego Zoo Global is committed to saving the Thick-billed Parrot and other species around the world — and in the Recovery Ecology division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, we use ecological research to address pressing survival challenges like those facing this species. Our conservation toolbox includes developing and testing conservation breeding techniques, reintroduction and translocation strategies, and monitoring and management in species recovery programs.”

The researchers involved in the project represent the Arizona Game and Fish Department; Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas; Organización Vida Silvestre A.C. (OVIS), a Mexican conservation NGO; and San Diego Zoo Global.

Thanks to San Diego Zoo Global for providing this news.

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