As a group, parrots can be found on every continent except Antarctica. There are flightless parrots and parrots that can be found in mountains, deserts, and even snow. Most parrots eat fruits and seeds, but some actually drink nectar from flowers.
Others have been known to eat meat. They can vary greatly in size – from pygmy parrots less than four inches long and weighing less than a half an ounce to hyacinth macaws, which can be over 40 inches long and weigh around three-and-a-half pounds.
The United States had two species of parrots native to this country. One, the Carolina parakeet, ranged through the eastern United States but was hunted as a pest and for its feathers until the end of the 19th century. Now extinct, the last known Carolina parakeet died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.
The only living parrot species whose natural range falls within the United States is the thick-billed parrot. This handsome green parrot with red and yellow markings above its beak and face is native to the Southwestern United States and Northwest Mexico. It inhabits mountain pine forests, but because of logging and some hunting, the range of thick-billed parrots has shrunk, and currently wild birds are only found south of the Arizona border in the Sierra Madre mountains of Sonora, Mexico.
There are only believed to be a few thousand birds left in the wild. In the United States, thick-billed parrots can only be seen in zoos. Currently there are approximately 100 of these birds in all of the American Zoological Association (AZA) zoos.
Fortunately for New Yorkers, WCS’s Queens Zoo has the largest flock of thick-billed parrots in the United States. Currently, we have 20 birds in our thick-billed parrot exhibit, which is a large, outdoor exhibit designed to provide a large area to fly as a flock, and whose vegetation resembles the Sierra Madre mountains in which they are found.
Our flock has produced 12 chicks in the last four years, which is more than half of all the captive reproduction of thick-bills in the country. We even have a monitor attached to a nest-box camera, where visitors can view parrot parents engaging in nesting behavior.
So if you are a parrot person, you might plan on spending some extra time at the Queens Zoo. In the spring and summer, our aviary has scarlet, green-winged, blue and gold, and severe macaws. It also has monk parakeets (which are not native to the United States, but have established themselves in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx nonetheless), sun conures and even a blue-fronted Amazon parrot.
While all those parrots are colorful and usually noisy, I challenge visitors to find all of them in the aviary. But be warned: once the temperature begins to fall in September, we have to move many of the tropical parrots to warmer areas off exhibit. So if you are planning on coming to see them, don’t wait too long. Once the summer passes, so does your chance to see some of the most entertaining animals in the aviary.
Scott Silver is the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo.