Abstract Aim We investigate spatial and temporal patterns of diversification within the Neotropical avifauna using the phylogenetic history of parrots traditionally belonging to the genus Pionopsitta Bonaparte 1854. This genus has long been of interest for those studying Neotropical biogeography and diversity, as it encompasses species that occur in most Neotropical forest areas of endemism. Location The Neotropical lowland forests in South and Central America. Methods Phylogenetic relationships were investigated for all species of the genus Pionopsitta and five other short-tailed parrot genera using complete sequences of the mitochondrial genes cyt b and ND2 as well as 26 plumage characters. The resulting phylogeny was used to test the monophyly of the genus, investigate species limits, and as a framework for reconstructing their historical biogeography and patterns of diversification. Results We found that the genus Pionopsitta, as previously defined, is not monophyletic and thus the Chocó, Central American and Amazonian species will now have to be placed in the genus Gypopsitta. The molecular and morphological phylogenies are largely congruent, but disagree on the position of one of the Amazon basin taxa. Using molecular sequence data, we estimate that species within Gypopsitta diversified between 8.7 and 0.6 Ma, with the main divergences occurring between 3.3 and 6.4 Ma. These temporal results are compared to other taxa showing similar vicariance patterns. Main conclusions The results suggest that diversification in Gypopsitta was influenced mainly by geotectonic events, marine transgressions and river dynamics, whereas Quaternary glacial cycles of forest change seem to have played a minor role in the origination of the currently recognized species.