The Wonderful World of AMAZONS

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WANTED:  Lifetime companion.  Must be beautiful to look at, extremely intelligent, have an outgoing personality and be a good conversationalist.  Must not be demanding of continual physical affection and be forgiving when I choose to ignore your presence for up to six months at a time because I’m into “other things.”  Macaws, cockatoos and African greys need not apply.


The Amazon parrots are by far, the best at fitting the bill.  For those that want all the benefits of sharing their lives with a companion bird, yet do not want to be burdened with the demands of a cockatoo, the size of a macaw or the sometimes unforgiving nature of an African grey, an Amazon is the best choice.


The name Amazon comes from the area that is the center of their range, the Amazonian rain forest.  The family was given this name because they epitomized all that was wonderful and exotic in this newly discovered area of the New World.  These were the “talking parrots” that the indigenous indians of the area, kept as household companions.  Over the centuries they have continued to capture the hearts of every cultural society they have been introduced to.  The decision that no home should be without one is easy.  The problem is deciding which of the many types of Amazons is right for your home. 


The Amazons of the Yellow-crowned group (Amazona ochrocephala) are some of the most commonly sought after companions.  This very large family ranges from Mexico, through Central America to North-central South America.  Different species of this family have varying amounts of yellow somewhere on their head.  All of them have the same high intelligence and talking ability but there are major differences in their personality. The more northerly the race, the more outgoing they are.  In some cases this translates into aggressive behavior or temper tantrums.  The more southerly races, have on the average, a much mellower personality.  Along with their more even temper they also tend to be quieter. 


The most northerly representative of the family is the double-yellow headed Amazon (A. o. oratrix).  Ranging throughout Mexico, these Amazons were very popular when Mexico was open to export.  Since Mexico has closed its’ borders the birds’ availability has become very sparse.  This is due to the fact that they have not proved to be reliable breeders in captivity.  Although most Amazon breeders produce a few each year, no one has been able to produce them in commercial quantities.  Although mature pet birds have the reputation of becoming quite nasty every year, during what would normally be the breeding season (especially males); their popularity has remained high. This is due to their beautiful coloration.  It is the only Amazon kept as a pet, whose entire head turns a bright yellow upon reaching full adult coloration.  Its’ beak is light horn in coloration.


As we move south to Southern Mexico, the range of the Yellow-naped Amazon (A. o. auropalliata) begins.  Their territory ranges south through Central America to Costa Rica.  The massive importation of hand-raised yellow-naped babies from Honduras during the 1980’s, made them the most popular pet Amazon in the U.S.  Their coloration differs from the  double-yellow in that they have no or only minor yellow coloration on the forehead, their area of extensive yellow plumage is, as their name implies, on the nape of neck.  Just like the double-yellow, they develop their yellow coloration, slowly as they mature.  Their beak can range from almost black to light grey depending from where in their range they are from.  If any bird was responsible for marking the turning point of demand from wild caught to hand-raised, it was the yellow-naped.  Although most made marvelous pets, their personalities upon maturity are only a bit less problematical than the double-yellow head.  Many enthusiasts feel that the yellow-napes talking ability exceeds that of the double-yellow head.  Although I believe this to be true, both types have enough talking ability to satisfy any owner.  These are the birds for those who feel that talking ability is of extreme importance.


South of Costa Rica is Panama.  It is there that the famous Panama Amazon (A. o. panamensis) begins and ends its’ range.  Rare in the pet trade at the present time, the Panama has never failed to live up to its’ reputation as one of the finest pet birds available.  The least colorful , with only a small patch of yellow on the front of their forehead, they are also the smallest in body size.  Their beak coloration can range from an overall pure horn color to horn with black streaks.  Although only a bit smaller than the other members of it’s race, it seems to have lost most of the negative personality traits with its’ minimal decrease in body size.  It is one of the most desirable Amazons to have as a member of your family.


Moving south, over the border into the mainland of South America, are the jungles of Colombia.  It is here that the color of the Panama Amazons beak darkens and its’ overall body size increases.  This variant is known as the yellow-fronted Amazon (A. o. ochrocephala) and is the South American representative of the group.  It is considered the nominate race by the scientific community; and therefore it is the bird that the rest of the family derives its scientific name from.  It is assumed that all of the above subspecies of yellow-crowned Amazons have evolved from this South American example.  These birds are, along with the Panamanian subspecies, the most even tempered and docile members of the group.  They have all of the intelligence and talking ability of the double-yellow and yellow-naped varieties without the rough edges to their personality.  Another advantage to the yellow-fronted is that since the bird is not as commercially known as the other members of its’ group it is usually available at a more reasonable price than the others. 


In Central –South America, the yellow-crown group is replaced by the Blue-fronted Amazons.  They range south, throughout the rest of the continent to Argentina.  There are three major types of Blue-fronts.  The type that inhabits Brazil (Amazona a. aestiva) is very rarely seen in the U.S.  It is usually more darkly pigmented than the other subspecies and shows only a small amount of red at the bend of the wing.  It has varying amounts of yellow on the top and upper sides of its’ head as well as a patch of blue on the front of the forehead.  This patch of color is what gives the bird its’ name.             


Moving south out of Brazil into Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, the birds green body coloration lightens and we begin to see yellow intermixed in the red coloration at the bend of the wing. This is the second type and is probably the most common in the U.S.  This bird of highly variable coloration is intermediate to the Brazilian subspecies and a more southerly representative of the family.  Even though it was the most widely represented in the pet trade during the years of importation, it has no separate scientific classification.


In a vast area of low scrub vegetation and cabbage palms called the Chaco, the third type appears.  This huge, largely uninhabited area is shared by three countries, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.  It is from here that the famous Chaco blue-fronted Amazon (A. a. xanthopteryx) was taken from the nest to be hand-raised for the pet trade.  Some older texts refer to this bird as the yellow-winged Amazon.  This subspecies has a light green body coloration with varying amounts of usually extensive yellow coloration on the head and the bend of the wing.  Some examples will have the entire head with the exception of the nape and the blue on the front edge of the forehead, yellow.  Many examples exhibit extensive amounts of yellow on the wing.  I have known specimens that have the yellow at their shoulder extend down, almost half the length of their wings.  Unlike the yellow-crown group, the blue-fronts show about 90% of their adult coloration with their juvenile plumage.  


All of the blue-front types make excellent pets and although they are usually not as physically animated as the yellow-crowns they are close in their talents at talking.  Overall they tend to be a bit quieter than the yellow-crowns and usually demonstrate a softer speaking voice.  The Chaco, will often demand a bit more money due to its’ coloration as well as its sometimes larger size, but they are all the same in other ways.  Except of course for the myriad of personality differences that you will find in any group of Amazons.  They are producing reliably in captivity and should be easy to obtain at any good bird shop. 


Next in popularity are four different types of Amazons, with a red coloration on their fore-heads.  The best known, is the red-lored Amazon (A a. autumnalis) which is sometimes called the yellow-cheeked.  This parrot ranges throughout the ranges of the double-yellow head and the Yellow-naped Amazons.  That is from Mexico, south to northern Nicaragua.  Nature blessed this bird with the most vibrant head coloration of all Amazons.  Bright red, yellow and blue, set off by a bi-colored beak (horn and black).  Overall they are a bit smaller in size than both the yellow- crown and blue-fronted group.  But that doesn’t keep them from having a very outgoing and playful personality.  Although they do not break any records for extensive vocabularies, they do maintain enough in their repertoire to satisfy most owners.  As far as loyalty and affection are concerned they have one of the highest ratings.


Next in this group is the Lilac-crowned Amazon (A. finschi). The red on there forehead is a deep plum color.  This is accented by a lilac-blue on the top of the head and a pale, horn colored beak.  The green body feathers usually have a yellowish hue to them. This Mexican Amazon has a reputation of being among the gentlest and quietest of the Amazon group.  It as well as the red-lored and the following two Amazons, are priced lower than those of the yellow-crowned and blue-fronted groups.


The Mexican red-headed or green-cheeked Amazon (A. viridigenalis) has been a great favorite for many years.  They have a large bright red patch on the top of their head with a bit of lilac-blue behind it.  Their horn colored beak and bright green body coloration makes them very eye catching.  It not only is usually the most animated of the four, it is also, on the average the best talker of this group.


The last as well as the least available of this group is the lilacine Amazon (A. a. lilacina).  A previously rare subspecies of the red-lored Amazon that hails from Ecuador.  The lilacine has been breeding regularly in the U.S. for quite some time.  It is now beginning to appear in the pet trade and is being well received.  The bird is identifiable by its’ jet black beak, dark maroon frontal band and light green cheek color.  They are a bit smaller than their red-lored cousins, with a noticeably finer head.  They are very intelligent birds with a sweet an easy going temperament.


]Leaving these two major pet groups there are several well known birds in the pet trade that stand alone.  The orange-winged Amazon (A. amazonica) was imported in great numbers when the U.S. was open to importation.  These were all wild caught and came from Guyana, a country on the northern coast of South America.  The wild caught did not usually make very good pets.  Since importation has stopped, and the market is now being supplied with hand-raised babies, the orange-wing is now a bird of a different “color”.  Its’ calm temperament and inquisitive nature make it a worthwhile companion.  The orange-wing’s coloration can vary drastically from one bird to the next.  In some cases they are mistaken for blue-fronted Amazons.  They have varying amounts of blue and yellow on the forehead and their cheek patches can range from yellow to bright orange.  The easiest way to identify them without fault is to look at the area of colored feathers on the top side of their open wing.  Most all Amazons have a colored area containing large red feathers on each wing.  In the case of the orange-wing, this area, which is called the wing speculum, is orange. 


The largest size Amazons ever to be available in the pet trade were the Mealy Amazons (A. farinosa).  Although there are still many people that have them in their homes they are difficult to find for sale.  This bird along with its’ cousin, the blue-crowned Amazon, has all but disappeared from the shops.  Unfortunately, these birds have proved to be very reluctant breeders in captivity.  The blue-crown type has a range that is from Guatemala through Central America to Costa Rica.  The South American version appears along the border jungles of southern Panama and northern Colombia.  It has small sporadic populations throughout much of the continent.  The main coloration differences between the forms is that the best known form from Central America has a bright blue wash covering the crown.  Its’ South American cousin usually has a small patch of yellow.  Many of these birds made excellent pets, and were quiet and affectionate, others were horrid.  Each bird had to be judged on its’ individual merit.  A good one can be marvelous.


The last and the smallest of the amazons that is commonly kept as a pet is the white-fronted Amazon (A. albifrons).  In the past, this parrot was often called the spectacled Amazon.  Its’ names are related to its head coloration.  On the front of its’ fore-head it has a band of “white”. This can range from pure white to a yellowish color, depending from where in their range they have come from.  The name spectacled comes from the bright red that begins just below the white above the nostrils, and runs around both eyes.  This is highlighted by blue on the top of the head and a horn colored beak.  These are the most reasonably priced of the Amazons.  There talking ability is usually limited to a phrase or two.  Due to their reasonable price they are very popular as a starter bird for those people who wish to try out something intermediate in size.  Since they are now breeding readily in captivity they will continue to be available.


Above and beyond these wonderful types, there are many that have always been considered difficult to obtain.  The first one that comes to mind is the yellow-shouldered Amazon (A. barbadensis).  The top pet bird in Venezuela, these dynamite little Amazons look like a miniature version of the Chaco Blue-front.  They are very animated and have excellent talking ability.  They have been on the international endangered species list for many years.  They are now being produced here in the U.S. in sufficient numbers to allow some to filter into the pet trade.  Those that have the opportunity to own one will enjoy the experience.


Another Amazon that is now being bred in the U.S. and is occasionally available is the tucuman (A. tucumana).  This was one of the last of the Amazons to be placed on the international endangered species list before importation into the U.S. was ended.  Its’ from Argentina and their importation history was short.  Almost all of the imports were purchased by breeders.  They are a small amazon, not so much in length but in body girth and head size.  Their overall coloration is green with a complimentary black edging to their feathers.  On the front of their forehead there is a patch of bright red.  Their beak is a horn color.  These parrots do not have enough of a track record as pets to make definite conclusions about their talents.  Those reports that I have received, tell me that they have, thus far, proved to be friendly, inquisitive and intelligent.


Next on the list of rarities that are occasionally available is the Hispaniolan Amazon (A. ventralis).  From the Island of Hispaniola in the West Indies, it is not only the favorite pet bird on its’ home island but also on the neighboring island of Puerto Rico.  They are a very small Amazon, about the size of the yellow-shouldered.  They have white on their forehead, pink at the throat and patch of black feathers on the side of their heads.  Their lower belly is a deep red-maroon.  The extent of their coloration varies drastically from one individual to the next.  Many of the Hispaniolans in the U.S. were brought in by visitors to these Islands.  Most are confiscated at our borders for improper documentation. Unfortunately they have proved to be reluctant breeders and most that show up for sale are usually confiscated birds that have been auctioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.


The Cuban Amazon (A. leucocephala) is very similar to the Hispaniolan but the colored areas are much more extensive.  Due to this they have been listed as separate species.  As their name implies, they are from Cuba as well as some of the small surrounding islands.  These small amazons are not only on the international endangered species list, they are on the U.S. federal list as well.  This makes them illegal to ship across state lines to anyone that does not have a federal permit to keep them.  Any breeder that produces them is allowed to sell them as pets within the borders of their own State to people that do not have a permit.  Although this has not happened often in the past, I believe that it will be happening more often in the future.  Many pair of Cubans are now producing regularly and those that breed them are having trouble selling the offspring.  The reasonable numbers being produced along with the Federal Governments stringent regulations as to who qualifies to receive these birds interstate commerce, has made them extremely difficult to sell.  There are several breeders who due to excellent production will soon be forced to seek homes for their birds in the pet sector within their home State.  Many people feel that endangered species should never be kept as pets but in cases of excess production, I strongly disagree.  This can not only promote more public interest in the birds but give them a better life as well.  When you have excess production sitting around for years in cages,  the birds set up a “pecking order”.  Those at the bottom will have a miserable life being “picked on” by those members of the flock that are above them in this “order”.  In the wild, they would fly a safe distance away.  In a flight cage, no matter how big, the “bullies” have them captive.  Release programs, as good as they sound, have thus far proved futile or fatal.  They not only have the reputation of being excellent pets on their native island, they are now a very popular Amazon in Russia.  When the U.S.S.R. broke up and the Russian soldiers were all called back from Cuba, many of them brought pet Cuban Amazons home with them.


Another very small Amazon that occasionally makes its’ way into the pet trade is the yellow-lored Amazon (A. xantholora).  They are similar in size and appearance to the white-fronted described earlier.  The two major differences being the round patch of black coloration on the ear coverts of the males and a bright sulfur yellow frontal band.  These birds have a very small range that starts in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and ends in the Bay Islands of Honduras.  Although never legally imported, the population that is in the U.S. is made up of birds that were confiscated at our borders and sold at public auction.  They are highly sought after by professional breeders.  Their pet quality is similar to that of the white-fronted.


Continuing with the “little guys”, there is also the yellow-faced Amazon (A. xanthops).  They have body coloration of light green with a patch of yellow on the top of their head and under their wings.  As they age the areas of yellow increase until the bird has its’ entire head, neck, breast and belly, yellow to yellow-orange.  These birds tend to be a bit nippy but they do have better than average talking ability.  At the present time, the demand for them by breeders, keeps most of them out of the pet shops.


A beautiful full sized Amazon that is now being produced with regularity is the Vinaceous-breasted Amazon (A. vinacea).  They have a red frontal band over the area of the nostrils (the cere).  The most striking coloration is the breast.  It is a wine colored red-purple, which is how the bird gets its name.  These birds make good talkers and excellent pets.  Like the Cuban Amazon, they are also on the Federal Endangered Species list.  They are however, still in demand by breeders.  In spite of the good demand, they are about to appear in limited numbers in the pet trade in the States where they are bred.  This is due to the fact that many more males are being produced than females.  Most vinaceous Amazon breeders that I know, have a cage full of extra males.  Some of us feel that in the future the extra males produced, would have a better life in a pet situation, than waiting for a female that will never come.


A full sized Amazon that used to very common in the pet trade but has all but disappeared from existence is the Festive Amazon (A. festiva).  Found along the Amazon River in Peru, Colombia and Brazil, this was one of the Amazons that was imported in fair numbers, thirty years ago.  Most of them were imported from Colombia.  Since the majority of them were wild caught they were usually overshadowed by the more popular, hand-raised double-yellow heads.  Despite this, most of them made wonderful pets.  They are a large Amazon with a large body girth.  They are an overall green with a thin line of dark maroon as a frontal band that extends from the front of the fore-head to the front corners of their eyes.  Their most notable color characteristic is the bright crimson red that covers the entire area of their rump.


A subspecies of the festive called Bodinis’ Amazon (A. f. bodini) lives in the jungles surrounding the Orinoco River in Venezuela.  Some small numbers were imported about eight to ten years ago.  More colorful than the festive, the Bodini has a much wider and redder frontal band that extends for the width of the fore-head.  Their cheeks have a heavy blue wash to them, which is quite striking.  They as does the festive also have the bright red rump.  Although it will be quite some time before they will be established enough to be available in the pet trade, one does see an occasional extra male offered.  These like the festive, have made quiet, intelligent pets that have a talent for talking.


With so many excellent choices it can be difficult to make a decision as to the type of amazon you should purchase.  What ever the choice, all of the hand raised amazons make good pets.  It is important to get a bird that has not only been hand raised but socialized at a young age with many different people.  This allows them to be less selective as to who they will be friendly with.  In most cases this is more effectively done in a pet shop.  It is there that they have the opportunity to interact with all shapes and sizes of people.  This will result in a more tolerant adult bird.  Another mistake that many buyers make, is that they will tend to ignore older birds regardless of their individual temperament.  There is no better pet investment than an older Amazon with a docile temperament.  These are the only Amazons available, where it can be said, that you truly know what you will wind up with in the long run.  Amazon babies, just like human children, will grow up with varying temperaments and personalities.  Although you can do everything in the world that is right for your children, there is still the possibility that they can grow up to turn around and “bite” you.  Do not hesitate to purchase an older bird if you, as well as some other members of your family, have spent some time interacting with it and the chemistry is right.


A Word About Breeding Amazons

Amazons are not easy to breed. With their high intelligence they can be very selective of their mates and very aggressive towards them if they become angry with them. Too much human presence in an Amazon breeding area that is not directly related to feeding or changing of water can cause a tame pair of Amazons to become aggressive and injure or kill their mates. Amazon breeding should not be done if you expect to keep the birds as friendly pets. They become quite aggressive to any intrusion when they are breeding. The tamer they are the more aggressive they will become toward humans during breeding, because they have no fear of the human intruder.