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Red-crowned parrots, rare but not reticent

Red-crowned Parrot, Amazona viridigenalis. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Published in the McAllen Monitor, July 1, 2023

Story and photos by Anita Westervelt

Some birds announce themselves in great gregarious disharmony, like chachalacas as they hop from limb to limb, chattering back and forth.

Several chachalacas were having a noise-fest in the mesquite trees surrounding our house when suddenly their cacophony was interrupted by an out-of-tune ratchetting, clattering squawk, like a creaking wagon wheel – metal on metal.

I grabbed my camera, exited the house and immediately startled two big, bright green birds from the top of a utility pole. I raced after them and managed a less than stellar photo but was able to identify the birds as red-crowned parrots, Amazona viridigenalis – a first for me and long-time bucket list item.

The parrots have remained in the vicinity. Not expecting their return visits, I unintentionally caused them to flee from the yard the first couple of days. First there were two, then four and on the third day, seven or eight scattered from out of a large fig tree when I got too close while picking up downed tree branches from an overnight wind event. I began taking my camera on early morning yard strolls.

Red-crowned Parrot. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

I quickly learned to anticipate the parrots on the property and took note of their preferred locations: like the tall pecan trees, where the bright green leaves camouflaged their feathers. I picked up on some of their various sounds – one of which is similar to a baby-doll scream, a little disconcerting the first two times I heard it.

Red-crowned Parrot well camouflaged in Pecan tree. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

By chance, I photographed a single parrot enjoying a ripe fruit, high in the fig tree.

Red-crowned Parrot eating a fig. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Halfway to the road one morning, I stopped on the driveway and stared hard into the tree boughs only to find the parrot boldly awaiting the photo session, perched on the wire just above me. Voila!

Also known as the Mexican red-headed parrot and green-cheeked amazon, they are native to a small region of humid, tropical lowlands and foothills in northeastern Mexico and into South Texas. They range from northeast Nuevo Leon through Tamaulipas to northern Veracruz. In Texas, their range is along the Rio Grande from the Gulf to San Ygnacio in Zapata County; they wander as far north as San Marcos, just northeast of San Antonio.

The red-crowned parrot wingspan is 19 inches. They are overall green with a bright red forehead and crown, a dark blue streak behind the eyes and light green cheeks. There are splashes of red under their wings that are strikingly visible during flight. They have a straw-colored, distinctive hooked beak and tan legs and feet.

Red-crowned Parrot. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The red-crowned parrot is non-migratory although they expand territories looking for new food sources. Their diet consists of seeds, nuts, fruits, flowers and nectar and some agricultural crops. Breeding is from April through June. There are about 2,000 red-crowned parrots; 1,000 are in Texas, according to local special quarterly counts.

Anyone can join a quarterly red-crowned parrot count to help document these wild, officially endangered birds. Contact park personnel at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, at 956-565-3919 for information about the next count.

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The sources were helpful in writing this article: Texas A&M University Texas Breeding Bird Atlas, All About Birds, National Audubon Society and eBird.


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