The Hawk-Headed Parrot

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The wonderfully regal bird is unlike any parrot on the planet.  All who see it in person, gasp in awe.  This says quite a lot since it is no bigger than a small Amazon.  Despite its’ size it’s a bird with an incredible “presence”. 


Its’ range is northern South America from northeastern Peru up into southern Columbia, through Venezuela and the Guianas into northern Brazil.  This covers a large area.  A range that extensive might lead one to believe that it’s a common bird.  Actually they are scarce throughout their range.  They are never seen in flocks.  Pairs and family groups of up to five members are what is usually encountered throughout their habitat. They usually remain in dense forests, which makes them difficult to spot.  It’s a bird that has strong ties to its’ nesting hollows and it is common for them to use the hollows as a year round sleeping dormitory.  


The hawk-head is very territorial and does not hesitate to defend any areas that it regularly frequents.  They will often attack any other hawk-head, they encounter during their daily travels, that is not a member of their family group.  In fact that is the personality trait that trappers used against them in order to facilitate their capture.  In Guyana the trappers would wait along their flyways in a blind that they would build high up in a tree.  They would put a semi-tame hawk-head out on one of the limbs.  When another hawk-head would fly by, it would fly down to pick a fight with the trappers “call bird.”  It was at that moment that the trapper would try to snare the fly in. 


The indigenous Indians refer to the bird as the “heea heea” which is a fairly accurate redition of their call.  It gets its’ English name from the beautiful ruff of red and blue elongated feathers that it has on its’ nape.  Whenever the bird is excited it raises these feathers so as to form a large ruff that crowns the top and sides of its’ head. This is a trait that is common to hawks, although in hawks it’s not as spectacular.  Their black beak and yellow eyes are offset by the pleasing chocolate brown coloration of their cheeks.  As we move up to the forehead the birds vary drastically in color depending on the area that they come from.   Those from the western part of the range have a white-buff forehead.  As we move east and then south into Brazil the coloration on the forehead darkens to a deep chocolate brown.  Hawk-heads with this dark brown coloration are much rarer in the U.S. because Brazil has never sent out any commercial shipments.  Their wings are a beautiful deep green as is their long and very broad tail.  Traits that are reminiscent of the king parrots from Asia rather than anything else in South America.  Their chest feathers are colored the same as the elongated nape; dark red with bright blue stripes that run the width of the edges.  This is accented by their green vent and the deep black underside of their broad tail.


As far as personality is concerned this bird is a show stopper.  Its’ comical antics and high intelligence make it a real member of the family.  In years past, hawk-heads were considered very difficult to breed in captivity.  The biggest problem was the lack of females.  Toward the end of commercial importation, enough females came in so as to allow a good number of serious aviculturists to acquire  a pair or two.  One of the factors that slowed development of this species in commercial aviaries was  misinformation.  Rumors spread that they were so territorial minded that they would not breed if there were any other pairs in the same aviary. 


Unfortunately many top aviculturists believed these rumors and refrained from setting up more than one pair.  They believed that if the birds could hear another pair they would not produce.  We at the institute have three pairs that are within earshot of each other.  All three pairs produce regularly.  There are now several other farms that  have regular production of these fabulous birds.  This is a bird that despite its’ high price tag, is in constant demand. 


The hawk-head even has high value in the countries that it is indigenous to.   This is because it is the bird that is the most highly coveted as a pet by tribal peoples of the Amazon Basin. The fact that Amazonian Indians, who certainly have a wide variety of choices, would choose this bird over so many others is the best testimonial to their incredible personality.  It is not until you move into thr areas of the big cities of Venezuala that its’ popularity gives way to the yellow-shouldered Amazon.