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Parrots of the Caribbean – Saving the Bahaman and Puerto Rican Amazons

Amazon in Puerto RicoNew efforts are underway to help 2 critically endangered Caribbean parrots, the Bahaman Amazon (Amazona leucocephala bahamensis) and the Puerto Rican Amazon (A. vittata). The various Caribbean islands are a hot-bed both of parrot diversity and parrot troubles – the Guadeloupe and Martinique Amazon Parrots, and a subspecies of the Puerto Rican Amazon (formerly found on Culebra Island), are already extinct.

The Bahaman Amazon

The Bahaman Amazon, also known as the Bahama Parrot, is closely related to the Cuban Amazon (please see photo).  It is limited in distribution to the Bahaman Islands of Grand Abaco and Grand Inagua.  Read More »

Introducing the Amazons: New World Parrots of the Genus Amazona, Part III – Rare and Extinct Species


Although several of the Amazon parrots are well-known to aviculturists and have long been pet trade staples, most species are actually quite rare in captivity and the wild, and several are, unfortunately, extinct.  Today I’d like to introduce you to some that are not often seen outside of their native ranges.  Please see Parts I and II of this article for information on commonly-kept Amazon parrots.

Extinct Species

Various Caribbean islands were the sites of several recent Amazon parrot extinctions.  The Guadeloupe Amazon, Amazona violacea, was last observed in 1779, and was apparently hunted to extinction shortly thereafter.  The Martinique Amazon, A. martinicana, was, according to the field notes of several naturalists and explorers, exceedingly common on its home island in the late 1700’s.  By the year 1800, however, it too had disappeared – also a victim of over-hunting.

The Lesser Antilles (the string of islands stretching from Puerto Rico to Trinidad) were reportedly home to at least 2 other distinct Amazon parrot species.  Unfortunately, today they exist only on the pages of travel logs and naturalists’ notebooks – preserved specimens are unknown.

Imperial or Dominican Amazon, A. imperialis

Reaching 18 inches in length and splashed in purple, brown and maroon, this magnificent parrot is the largest of its genus.  Limited in distribution to a single mountainside on the tiny island of Dominica, it is also among the rarest.  The wild population is estimated at 80-200 birds, and there is a small captive breeding effort.

Puerto Rican Amazon, A. vittata

Puerto Rican Amazon ParrotWith only 30-35 individuals remaining in Puerto Rico’s Loquillo Mountains, this is quite likely the Neotropic’s rarest parrot.  A related subspecies on nearby Culebra Island became extinct in 1912.  The captive population of approximately 100 birds (which suffered serious losses due to thievery in 2001) is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

An intensive reintroduction program is in effect, with captive reared birds being given predator-avoidance training (the island hosts a large population of red-tailed hawks).  However, less than 1% of the species’ natural habitat remains, and introduced black rats and mongooses pose a grave threat. Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons here.

St. Lucia Amazon, A. versicolor

I was very fortunate to have observed this colorful and rare bird while working with leatherback sea turtles on its tiny island home.  I had not really expected to see it at the time, and the intervening 20 years have not dulled the very pleasant memory.

The species’ name – “versicolor” – suits this most strikingly-marked of the Amazons well.  Its bright green feathers are rimmed in black, while blue and purple mark the head and red colors the throat and upper breast.   Wild specimens, which likely number less than 500, keep to St. Lucia’s mountain forests. Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Brennan Mulroony

St. Vincent’s Amazon, A. guildingii

St. Vincent Amazon ParrotAnother oddly marked (for an Amazon parrot) Caribbean island denizen, this parrot’s plumage contains a good deal of black, blue and violet, offset by orange, red and white about the head.

Advanced aviculturists and several zoos are working to produce captive offspring to offset the massive decline in the wild population. Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Stavenn.

Yellow-Billed Amazon, A. collaria and Black-Billed Amazon, A. agilis

Jamaica’s only 2 parrot species are both highly endangered.  Neither was very well-known in US collections until comparatively recent times – the yellow-billed being first bred in 1963 and the black billed in 1978.  Both are now occasionally available in the pet trade, and deserve serious attention from those with the experience and resources to attempt captive breeding.

Red-Browed Amazon, A. rhodocorytha

Red Browed Amazon ParrotThe word “bright” comes to mind the first time one views this bird’s brilliant blue, green and red plumage…usually that view is of a photo, unfortunately, as the bird itself is exceedingly rare.  All but 2 of the specimens known to be in the USA are housed at Florida’s Rare Species Conservancy.

Captives breed fairly well, but, as only 2-10% of its rainforest habitat in eastern Brazil remains, re-introductions are not likely.  The scant reports that filter out of that area indicate that nest-poaching and deforestation continue at an alarming pace. Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Duncan Rawlinson


The Houston Zoo has long been involved in parrot conservation efforts, and was the first US institution to breed the St. Vincent’s Amazon.  You can read about their recent progress with this species at:


Introducing the Amazons: New World Parrots of the Genus Amazona, Part II – the Spectacled, Yellow-Naped and Vinaceous Amazon Parrots

Please see Part I of this article for general information and notes concerning other species.

Spectacled or White-Fronted Amazon Parrot, Amazona albifrons albifrons

Reaching only 11 inches in length and hailing from Mexico and Central America, this smallest of the Amazons is also the most affordable of the group.  This may be in part to its somewhat undeserved reputation as a “screamer”.  Its voice is loud and high-pitched, no doubt, and, like many of its relatives, the spectacled Amazon is quite vocal in general.

However, these vocal propensities render this red, white and blue-crowned parrot a very good mimic.  Due to their relatively modest cost, spectacles were quite common in the trade when I first began working with birds, and I had the chance to work with quite a few.  They seemed often to revel in their abilities…those I’ve been around have been most enthusiastic talkers, always ready to show off.

I heartily recommend spectacled Amazons to those with some parrot-keeping experience…properly socialized and handled, they make wonderful pets.  They are not for those seeking a quiet parrot that will blend into the background, but are ideal for those who want a responsive, active household member about.

Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot, Amazona (ochrocephala) auropalliata

Yellow-napes are considered by many to be the ultimate parrot pet, and certainly their reputation for great intelligence is well-deserved.  Large (to 16 inches), boisterous, vocal and active, the yellow-nape is best acquired as a hand-raised youngster.  Birds that are not well-socialized when young are a real handful, and best left to very experienced (and patient!) aviculturists.  Yellow napes do tend to use their powerful beaks to “make a point”, a further reason why well-tamed individuals are recommended.

Yellow-napes often take well to lots of physical contact with favored people…they may roll onto their backs and paw at you with their feet and engage in all sorts of similar games.  Their size and sturdy build suits them well for controlled rough-housing, much more so than many parrots.

The yellow-nape is considered by some ornithologists to be a distinct species, while others classify it as a subspecies of the widely-ranging yellow-crowned parrot.  Eight to nine additional yellow-crowned subspecies range from central Mexico to the Amazon Basin.  The yellow-naped Amazon is found from southern Mexico to western Costa Rica.  The various types have long been popular pets throughout their native ranges.

Vinaceous Amazon Parrot, Amazona vinacea

The vinaceous Amazon differs from its relatives in general personality traits, being rather shy and retiring.  Most have none of the “swagger” associated with its raucous cousins, and make gentle, affectionate pets.  They fare best in quiet surroundings, and should be approached slowly, even when well-habituated to captivity.

This striking bird is distinct from most other Amazons in plumage as well.  Its green feathers are rimmed in black and the forehead and chin are red.  The throat and breast are infused with a beautiful purple-red cast, which sometimes extends to the abdomen, lending this parrot a quite unique appearance.

Unfortunately, vinaceous Amazons are quite rare in their native habitat, which is limited to southeastern Brazil and Paraguay, with remnant populations hanging on in Argentina.  Deforestation is the main culprit in their disappearance from large tracts of former habitat.  Like most parrots, they depend upon tree cavities in which to nest.  Vinaceous Amazons seem even more demanding than most species as regards the size and location of nesting cavities, and hence are particularly sensitive to habitat loss.   Field studies have shown that they compete poorly with other cavity nesting birds and mammals (i.e. various opossums), and that introduced honeybees commandeer favored tree holes with increasing frequency.

Given their precarious situation in the wild, vinaceous Amazons are an ideal choice for those with the space and expertise to attempt breeding.

Amazons have found use as “watchdogs”, and may have figured prominently in the Columbus’ journey the Americas.  Please see my article at http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatavianblog/2008/05/14/did-parrots-help-columbus-find-his-way-to-america/ and the references cited there.

Yellow Naped Amazon image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by SEWilco under Wikipedia Commons 

Vinaceous Amazon image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by TJLin under Wikipedia Commons.

Introducing the Amazons: New World Parrots of the Genus Amazona – Part 1


The 27-30 parrots in the Genus Amazona, collectively known as “Amazons”, are among the world’s most popular avian pets.  Indeed, they represent, at least to the general (i.e. “non-bird keeping”) public, the “typical” parrot.  But they are far from typical in any manner, and the various species, while sharing some characteristics, differ greatly from one another.

I’d like to devote a good deal of time to this important and popular group, with an emphasis on the general personality traits of the various species.  I’ll start here with those that are well-suited for beginners, and in future articles will cover larger Amazons, as well as some of the lesser-known and rare species.  I’ll also include information on Amazons in the wild from time to time.


Amazons of one kind of another range throughout much of Central and South America, and also occur on a number of Caribbean islands.  The group includes quite common, rare and recently-extinct species.

General Characteristics

Amazons are feisty birds overall, much given to noisy bickering among themselves and nearly always on the go.  They are quite hardy, with longevities exceeding 80 years for some species.  They are considered by aviculturists to among the most intelligent and trainable of the parrots, and many individuals learn to speak well.  Most bond strongly to their owners, and so make great companions.

Choosing a Species

Because the various Amazons are superficially similar – medium to large, mainly green, stoutly-built parrots with short, rounded tails, there is sometimes a tendency to lump them together, as regards their suitability as pets.  However, as I hope to illustrate, care should be taken to match one’s personality with that of the parrot when choosing a pet.  Of course, individual birds vary greatly within the same species, but there are some general species’ characteristics that can be helpful.

Surprisingly, the qualities mentioned in the preceding section render some Amazon species as poor choices for beginning parrot-keepers.  Some are just too strong-willed and feisty, and need a great deal of room and attention.  They quickly learn (almost always far sooner than their owners!) how to dominate their caretakers, and what they can get away with.  These types, which I’ll cover in the future, are best left to experienced keepers.

Neophyte parrot fanciers do best with the smaller, quieter varieties that tend to have calm demeanors and a less “pushy” personality.  I’ll start off with some examples of these.

Lilac-Crowned or Finsch’s Amazon, Amazona finschi

Although well-known in captivity, this delightful parrot’s natural range is limited to foothills and mountainous terrain in western Mexico.  The green feathers have a dark tint to their edges, lending the bird a quite unique appearance, and there is an attractive purple cast to the head.  One of the smaller Amazons, it tops out at about 12 inches in length.

Lilac-crowned Amazons are shyer than most of their relatives, and well-suited to a calm owner and quiet household.  They are good talkers, and, if handled gently, make fine pets.

Blue-Fronted Amazon, Amazona aestiva aestiva

The large range of this parrot extends from northeastern Brazil to Paraguay and northern Argentina.  It seems, fortunately, to be a bit more resilient than other parrots as regards habitat loss, and is still to be found in good numbers in many areas.

Slightly larger than the lilac-crowned Amazon, the blue-fronted is also a good deal more vigorous and definitely a bit more of a challenge,  That being said, it is an easily managed bird in the right hands, and is regarded as an excellent talker.  They are quite energetic, and need to kept busy if they are to do well.

Blue-fronted Amazons have always been popular in Europe, but lag behind other Amazons here in the USA.  Green in color and topped with a blue and yellow head, their unusually large eyes lend them a sensitive, “knowing” demeanor.


You can read about the natural history and conservation needs of the lilac-crowned Amazon at:


Lilac  Crowned Amazon Photo referenced from Wikipedia, originally published by Ruth Rogers, and shared under Creative Commons Share 2.0

Blue-fronted Amazon picture referenced from Wikipedia, originally published by Snowmanradio, and shared under Creative Commons Share 2.0

Choosing a Pet Parrot – an overview of popular species

In recent years an ever increasing number of parrot species have been bred in captivity and made available to those of us who enjoy keeping these avian clowns. This wonderful turn of events has taken a good deal of pressure off wild parrot populations, but sometimes leaves the prospective parrot owner a bit bewildered when it comes to choosing a pet.

Choosing a species and an individual parrot is an important step, and is best undertaken after careful research and discussions with the specialists in our bird room. I will write detailed articles about the care of individual parrot species in the future. What I would like to do here is to give you a general idea of the personalities and needs of some popular species, to help in your initial planning.

Please bear in mind that individual parrots vary greatly in their personalities and reactions to different people and environments, and that they quite often break the “species mold”. Their past care – how and where they were kept and raised – and your own actions will also have a great influence on their suitability as pets.

Fischer’s Lovebird, Agapornis fischeri
The behavior of these spunky little fellows often belies the “love” part of their name. True, mated pairs are quite attentive to each other, but lovebirds in general are among the most fearless of birds and will not hesitate to take on adversaries many times their size.

Years ago I kept a flock of Fischer’s lovebirds along with a pair of grey duikers (small antelopes) in an exhibit the Bronx Zoo. The birds were the bane of the antelopes’ existence, and would only allow the much larger creatures to feed after the flock had eaten its fill. They would even crowd around the glass that separated them from the meerkat exhibit — screening at the normally bird-intimidating predators and just itching for a fight!

Adult lovebirds are almost impossible to tame, but when acquired as fledglings they make very responsive and intelligent pets. Although not known for their talking abilities, they make up for this with their clownish antics and sociability. Their small size (6 inches or so) renders them ideal choices for those with limited space.

Black-headed Caique, Pionites melanocechala
Although not as commonly available as some of the other birds on this list, this caique (correct pronunciation is “kah-ee-kay”, but you will often hear “cake”), is well worth searching for. Although somewhat less “dependent” upon company than other parents (often to the point of seeming “aloof”), this South American beauty often bonds closely with one person. They are fairly small (10 inches) and possess only moderate talking abilities. Colored green with a yellow and orange front and black head and beak, this bird is quite stunning to behold.

Spectacled Amazon, Amazona albifrons albifrons
Often overlooked because they are relatively common in the pet trade, spectacled Amazons have much to recommend them. They are, however, quite loud and given to an almost constant chattering, and this can be a bit much for some people. These tendencies, however, render them fairly good talkers and their outgoing personalities can be quite charming. Those that I have worked with have unfailingly become the center of attention, and were quite are undeterred by large groups and noisy surroundings. They reach about 11 inches in length, and so need a bit more room than the birds mentioned up to this point.

Yellow-naped Amazon, Amazona ocrocephala auropalliata
This Amazon is less brightly-colored than others of the group, but makes a wonderful pet for the right owner. I say “right owner” because they are quite large and active, and tend to defend themselves vigorously when threatened. That being said, yellow-napes are also extremely curious and engaging, and are among the most acrobatic and trainable of the Amazons. They reach 16 inches in length and are best acquired as hand- fed babies.


You can read more about important considerations in choosing a pet parrot at:http://www.windhovervet.com/choosing.htm

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