Yellow-headed amazon

Last updated

Yellow-headed amazon
Amazona oratrix -Vancouver Aquarium-8a-4c.jpg
At Vancouver Aquarium
CITES Appendix I (CITES) [2]
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
Genus: Amazona
A. oratrix
Binomial name
Amazona oratrix
(Ridgway, 1887)
Amazona oratrix map.svg

Amazona ochrocephala oratrix

The yellow-headed amazon (Amazona oratrix), also known as the yellow-headed parrot and double yellow-headed amazon, is an endangered amazon parrot of Mexico and northern Central America. Measuring 38–43 centimetres (15–17 in) in length, it is a stocky short-tailed green parrot with a yellow head. It prefers to live in mangrove forests or forests near rivers or other bodies of water. It is sometimes considered a subspecies of the yellow-crowned amazon (Amazona ochrocephala). It is a popular pet and an excellent talker. Poaching for the international pet trade has driven the species to near-extinction in the wild; around half of all wild-caught birds are thought to die in the process.



Tres Marias amazon at Cougar Mountain Zoological Park, United States Amazona oratrix -Cougar Mountain Zoological Park -hand-8a.jpg
Tres Marías amazon at Cougar Mountain Zoological Park, United States

This species is part of the Amazona ochrocephala complex, which also includes the yellow-naped amazon (A. auropalliata). This complex, which has been called "a taxonomic headache", [3] is considered a single species by some authorities and split into three species by others. The split is mainly based on the amount of yellow in the plumage, the color of the legs and bill, the proximity of A. oratrix and A. auropalliata in Oaxaca, Mexico, without apparent interbreeding, [4] and the presence of both A. ochrocephala and A. auropalliata in northern Honduras. [5] This evaluation has, however, been confused by misunderstandings regarding the plumage variations in the populations in northern Honduras, where birds vary greatly in amount of yellow on the head, crown and nape, but have pale bills and a juvenile plumage matching A. oratrix, but neither A. ochrocephala nor A. auropalliata. [3] [6] In 1997, the population from the Sula Valley in northern Honduras was described as a new subspecies, hondurensis, of A. oratrix. [7] A. auropalliata caribaea on the Islas de la Bahía, which is relatively close to the recently described A. oratrix hondurensis, may have a relatively pale lower mandible, indicating that gene flow may occur between the two. [8] If confirmed, this could suggest that the two are better considered conspecific. Alternatively, it has been suggested that caribaea and parvipes, both typically considered subspecies of A. auropalliata, may be closer to A. oratrix than they are to the nominate A. auropalliata. Both are relatively small and have red on the shoulder like A. oratrix, but unlike nominate A. auropalliata. [3] [6] The members of this complex are known to hybridize in captivity, [3] and recent phylogenetic analysis of DNA did not support the split into the three "traditional" biological species, but did reveal three clades, which potentially could be split into three phylogenetic species: a Mexican and Central American species (including panamensis, which extends slightly into South America), a species of northern South America, and a species from the southern Amazon Basin. The Central American clade can potentially be split further, with panamensis (the Panama amazon) and tresmariae (the Tres Marías amazon) recognized as two monotypic species. [9] [10] [11]

According to the traditional split, A. oratrix includes the taxa tresmariae (from the Tres Marías Islands), belizensis (from Belize) and hondurensis (from the Sula Valley in northern Honduras) as subspecies. [12] An additional subspecies, magna, has sometimes been recognized for the population on the Gulf slope of Mexico, but today most authorities consider it invalid, instead including this population in oratrix, which also occurs on the Pacific slope of Mexico. [3] [12] [13] In contrast, the population in northwestern Honduras and adjacent eastern Guatemala (near Puerto Barrios), which resembles A. oratrix belizensis and commonly is included in that subspecies, may represent an undescribed subspecies. It has sometimes been referred to as guatemalensis, [12] but until this population is officially described, the name remains provisional.

The origin of the common epithet "double yellow-headed" is that this species is differentiated from the others in the yellow-headed amazon complex by possessing both the yellow nape and yellow crown of its two close relatives, hence a "double-yellow" head. [14]


The yellow-headed amazon averages 38–43 centimetres (15–17 in) long. [15] The shape is typical of amazons, with a robust build, rounded wings, and a square tail. The body is bright green, with yellow on the head, dark scallops on the neck, red at the bend of the wing, and yellow thighs. The flight feathers are blackish to bluish violet with a red patch on the outer secondaries. The base of the tail also has a red patch, which is usually hidden. The outer tail feathers have yellowish tips. [3]

8 weeks old. BabyDYHAmazon1.jpg
8 weeks old.

The bill is horn-colored (gray), darker in immatures of the Belizean subspecies. The eye ring is whitish in Mexican birds and grayish in others. The most conspicuous geographical difference is the amount of yellow. In adults, the head and upper chest are yellow in the subspecies of the Tres Marías Islands (tresmariae); just the head in the widespread subspecies of Mexico (oratrix); just the crown in Belize (belizensis); and the crown and nape in the Sula Valley of Honduras (hondurensis, which thus resembles the yellow-naped parrot). Immatures have less yellow than adults; they attain adult plumage in 2 to 4 years. [3]

The variety "Magna" (or "Magnum") is bred for more yellow and commands a premium price as a pet. [16] Some "extreme" Magnas have as much yellow as Tres Marías birds, but are distinguished from them by heavier barring on the chest and a less bluish tint to the green plumage. [17]

Wild birds give low-pitched, sometimes human-sounding screams, but often fly silently (unlike many other parrots). The calls can be described as "a rolled kyaa-aa-aaah and krra-aah-aa-ow, a deep, rolled ahrrrr or ahrhrrrr," etc. [3] Young birds make a "clucking" sound to indicate that they are hungry.

Distribution and habitat

In Belize Amazona oratrix -eating in tree-8.jpg
In Belize

This species lives in riparian forest and areas with scattered trees, as well as evergreen forest in Belize and mangroves in Guatemala. A notable ecoregion of occurrence is the Belizean pine forests. [18] It occurs singly or in pairs, in small groups, and occasionally in big flocks. The range formerly included both coastal slopes of Mexico from the Tres Marías Islands and Jalisco to Oaxaca and from Nuevo León to northern Chiapas and southwestern Tabasco, as well as a disjunct area including most of Belize, and another comprising a small part of northeastern Guatemala and northwestern Honduras. [3] However, their numbers have been reduced drastically—by 90%, to 7,000, from the mid-1970s to 1994, [19] and by 68% from 1994 to 2004 [1] —because of capture for the pet trade and habitat destruction.

Introduced populations can be found in Stuttgart, Germany where a population of over 50 individuals resides. [20] Smaller introduced populations are to found at Imperial Beach, Santa Ana, Loma Linda and Pasadena; all in Southern California. In addition, introduced –and apparently breeding– populations have been reported in Puerto Rico. [21]

Conservation status

Upper body Amazona oratrix -captive -upper body-8a.jpg
Upper body

The yellow-headed amazon is considered endangered by the IUCN, and is listed under CITES Appendix I, which regulates the international trade of the species including those bred in captivity through a permitting system. Populations range from Central America, through Mexico, and even into the southmost region of Texas.

The popularity of yellow-headed amazons as a pet continues to fuel poaching efforts, which have nearly driven it to extinction in the wild. Their wild population has declined from 70,000 to 7,000 in the past two decades alone. [1] An estimated 40-60% of poached yellow-headed amazons die before they are sold. The situation for tresmariae, which potentially can be treated as a separate species, is unclear, but its very small range gives cause for concern and some reports indicate it is under considerable threat. [1]

Unscrupulous bird traders may sometimes bleach or dye the feathers of more common parrot species, such as the white-fronted amazon in order to pass them off for sale as (more expensive) yellow-headed amazons. This cruel treatment is often fatal for the birds involved. [22]

As pets

Pet parrot Yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix) pet on perch.jpg
Pet parrot

Though only captive-bred yellow-headed amazons may be owned, these are widely available (if somewhat expensive) and their personalities make them highly desirable pets; they have been kept as such for centuries [23] because they are among the parrots that "talk" best. [24] Their vocal abilities are generally bested only by the grey parrot and matched by similar species, such as the yellow-naped parrot. Yellow-headed amazons in captivity appear to have an affinity for both singing and the learning of song - and a naturally powerful, operatic voice. [25] [26] [27]

As in most amazons, nervous plucking of plumage is rare among this species. A generally recognized disadvantage of the yellow-headed amazon and its close relatives (such as the yellow-naped amazon) is hormonal aggressiveness, most notable among males in the breeding season. It is a member of the "Hot Three" (referring to the male bird's "hot" temper), along with the yellow-naped and blue-fronted. [28] [29] Yellow-headed amazons are known for being "one person birds" - bonding to one human, to whom they become fiercely loyal. It is possible, albeit difficult, to mitigate this behavior by ensuring that the bird receives regular and equal attention from other members of the household. [30]

Captive yellow-headed amazons are known for having a large appetite and an appreciation of a wide variety of foods. They are prone to obesity and nutritional deficiencies if the parrot's owner fails to provide adequate opportunities for play and exercise, and overindulges the parrot with treats and table scraps. [30] The World Parrot Trust recommends that yellow-headed amazons be kept in an enclosure with a minimum length of 3 metres at a temperature no lower than 10°C. [31]

Related Research Articles

Amazon parrot Genus of birds

Amazon parrots are parrots in the genus Amazona. They are medium-sized, short-tailed parrots native to the Americas, with their range extending from South America to Mexico and the Caribbean. Amazona is one of the 92 genera of parrots that make up the order Psittaciformes and is in the family Psittacidae, one of three families of true parrots. It contains about thirty species. Most amazons are predominantly green, with accenting colors that depend on the species and can be quite vivid. They feed primarily on seeds, nuts, and fruits, supplemented by leafy matter.

Yellow-naped amazon Species of bird

The yellow-naped amazon or yellow-naped parrot is a widespread amazon parrot sometimes considered to be a subspecies of the yellow-crowned amazon .. It inhabits the Pacific coast of southern Mexico and Central America. It is has been recently been reclassified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List due to a dramatic decline across the extent of its range. Yellow-naped amazons have lost more than 92% of their population over the last three generations.

Scarlet macaw Species of bird

The scarlet macaw is a large red, yellow, and blue Central and South American parrot, a member of a large group of Neotropical parrots called macaws. It is native to humid evergreen forests of the Neotropics. Its range extends from south-eastern Mexico to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil in lowlands of 500 m (1,600 ft) up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft), the Caribbean island of Trinidad, as well as the Pacific island of Coiba. Formerly, it ranged north to southern Tamaulipas. In some areas, it has suffered local extinction because of habitat destruction, or capture for the parrot trade, but in other areas, it remains fairly common. It is the national bird of Honduras. Like its relative the blue-and-yellow macaw, the scarlet macaw is a popular bird in aviculture as a result of its striking plumage.

Turquoise-fronted amazon Species of bird

The turquoise-fronted amazon, also called the turquoise-fronted parrot, the blue-fronted amazon and the blue-fronted parrot, is a South American species of amazon parrot and one of the most common amazon parrots kept in captivity as a pet or companion parrot. Its common name is derived from the distinctive turquoise marking on its head just above its beak.

White-fronted amazon Species of bird

The white-fronted amazon also known as the white-fronted parrot, or spectacled amazon parrot, is a Central American species of parrot. They can imitate a range from 30 to 40 different sounds. Like other large parrots, the white-fronted parrot has a long potential life span, usually around 40 years.

Red-necked amazon Species of bird

The red-necked amazon, also known as the red-necked parrot, Dominican blue-faced amazon, lesser Dominican amazon, and Jaco parrot, is an amazon parrot endemic to Dominica.

Black-billed amazon Species of bird

The black-billed amazon is a parrot endemic to Jamaica. Sometimes called the black-billed parrot, this amazon parrot is mostly green with small patches of red on the wing and sometimes flecked on the head. Its bill makes it easy to separate from most other amazons, including the yellow-billed amazon, which also lives in Jamaica. It is the smallest Amazona parrot at 25 cm (10 in).

Orange-winged amazon Species of bird

The orange-winged amazon, also known locally as orange-winged parrot and loro guaro, is a large amazon parrot. It is a resident breeding bird in tropical South America, from Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago south to Peru, Bolivia and central Brazil. Its habitat is forest and semi-open country. Although common, it is persecuted as an agricultural pest and by capture for the pet trade. It is also hunted as a food source. Introduced breeding populations have been reported in Puerto Rico and Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

Lilac-crowned amazon Species of bird

The lilac-crowned amazon is a parrot endemic to the Pacific slopes of Mexico. Also known as Finsch's amazon, it is characterized by green plumage, a maroon forehead, and violet-blue crown and neck.

Cuban amazon Species of bird

The Cuban amazon also known as Cuban parrot or the rose-throated parrot, is a medium-sized mainly green parrot found in woodlands and dry forests of Cuba, the Bahamas and Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Although they have been observed in the wild in Puerto Rico, they are probably the result of escaped pets, and no reproduction has been recorded.

Red-lored amazon Species of bird

The red-lored amazon or red-lored parrot is a species of amazon parrot, native to tropical regions of the Americas, from eastern Mexico south to Ecuador where it occurs in humid evergreen to semi-deciduous forests up to 1,100 m altitude. It is absent from the Pacific side of Central America north of Costa Rica. Not originally known from El Salvador, a pair - perhaps escaped from captivity - nested successfully in 1995 and 1996 in the outskirts of San Salvador and the species might expand its range permanently into that country in the future. This species has also established feral populations in several California cities.

Talking bird Bird that can mimic human speech

Talking birds are birds that can mimic the speech of humans. There is debate within the scientific community over whether some talking parrots also have some cognitive understanding of the language. Birds have varying degrees of talking ability: some, like the corvids, are able to mimic only a few words and phrases, while some budgerigars have been observed to have a vocabulary of almost 2,000 words. The hill myna, a common pet, is well known for its talking ability and its relative, the European starling, is also adept at mimicry. Wild cockatoos in Australia have been reported to have learned human speech by cultural transmission from ex-captive birds that have integrated into the flock.

Yellow-crowned amazon Species of bird

The yellow-crowned amazon or yellow-crowned parrot is a species of parrot native to tropical South America, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. The taxonomy is highly complex and the yellow-headed and yellow-naped amazon are sometimes considered subspecies of the yellow-crowned amazon. Except in the taxonomic section, the following deals only with the nominate group .They are found in the Amazon basin.

Yellow-billed amazon Species of bird

The yellow-billed amazon, also called the yellow-billed parrot or Jamaican amazon, is a species of parrot in the family Psittacidae. It is a predominantly green parrot with a short tail and pink throat and neck. It is endemic to Jamaica, where its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical mangrove forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, plantations, and rural gardens. It is threatened by habitat loss and illegal trapping of wild birds for the pet trade.

Scaly-naped amazon Species of bird

The scaly-naped amazon, also known as the scaly-naped parrot, mercenary amazon, Tschudi's amazon, mountain parrot, or gray-naped amazon is a species of parrot in the family Psittacidae. It is found along the Andes in the northern part of South America. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.

Yucatan amazon Species of bird

The Yucatan amazon, also known as the yellow-lored amazon, Yucatan parrot or yellow-lored parrot is a species of amazon parrot in the family Psittacidae. It is found in Belize, Honduras, and Mexico. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, coastal mangroves and heavily degraded former forest; an example location of occurrence is in the Petenes mangroves ecoregion of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Panama amazon Subspecies of bird

The Panama amazon, also known as the Panama yellow-headed amazon, is a subspecies of the yellow-crowned amazon, and is endemic to Panama and northwest Colombia. In aviculture, it is sometimes listed as a separate species, and this is potentially correct; at least as a phylogenetic species.

Tres Marías amazon Species of bird

The Tres Marías amazon is an Amazon parrot in the family Psittacidae. Many authorities consider it a subspecies of the yellow-headed amazon, including the AOU, but is afforded full species status by the International Ornithological Congress. It is endemic to the Islas Marías off the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Northern mealy amazon Species of bird

The northern mealy amazon or northern mealy parrot is among the largest parrots in the genus Amazona, the amazon parrots. It is a mainly green parrot with a total length of 38–41 cm (15–16 in). It is endemic to tropical Central America. This species and the southern mealy amazon were previously considered conspecific. Some taxonomic authorities (including the American Ornithological Society, continue to lump them together.


  1. 1 2 3 4 BirdLife International (2020). "Amazona oratrix". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2020: e.T22686337A179331301. doi: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22686337A179331301.en . Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Steve N. G. Howell; Sophie Webb (1995). A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America . Oxford University Press. ISBN   0-19-854012-4.
  4. Binford, L. 1989. A distributional survey of the birds of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Orn. Monographs. 43: 1-418.
  5. Monroe, B., JR., & T. Howell. 1966. Geographic variation in Middle American parrots of the Amazona ochrocephala complex. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, no. 34. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.
  6. 1 2 Lousada, S., & S. Howell. 1996. Distribution, variation, and conservation of Yellow-headed Parrots in northern Central America. Cotinga 5: 46-53.
  7. Lousada, S., & S. Howell. 1997. Amazona oratrix hondurensis: A new subspecies of parrot from the Sula Valley of northern Honduras. Bull. BOC 117: 203-223.
  8. Lousada, S. 1989. Amazona auropalliata caribaea: A new subspecies of parrot from the Bay Islands, northern Honduras. Bull. BOC 109: 232-235.
  9. Eberhard, J., & E. Bermingham. 2004. Phylogeny and Biogeography of the Amazona ochrocephala (Aves: Psittacidae) Complex. Auk 121(2): 318-332
  10. Russello, M. A., & Amato, G. (2004). A molecular phylogeny of Amazona: implications for Neotropical parrot biogeography, taxonomy, and conservation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 30(2): 421-437
  11. Ribas, C. C., Tavares, E. S., Yoshihara, C., & Miyaki C. Y. (2007). Phylogeny and biogeography of yellow-headed and blue-fronted parrots (Amazona ochrocephala and Amazona aestiva) with special reference to the South American taxa. Ibis 149: 564-574
  12. 1 2 3 Juniper, T., & M. Parr. 1998. A Guide to the Parrots of the World. Pica Press, East Sussex. ISBN   1-873403-40-2
  13. Clements, J. 2007. The Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World. Christopher Helm. ISBN   978-0-7136-8695-1
  14. "Yellow-headed Amazon". Animalia. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  15. "Species factsheet: Amazona oratrix". BirdLife International (2008). Retrieved 12 August 2008.
  16. "Double Yellow-Headed Amazon Parrot". Aves International. Retrieved 2006-08-23. A commercial site. Shows many photographs including captive-bred young.
  17. "Where are they now?". The Feather Tree. 2003. Retrieved 2006-08-23. A commercial site. Shows many photographs comparing "extreme Magna" to tresmariae
  18. C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2012. Belizean pine forests. ed. M. McGinley. Encyclopedia of Earth. Washington DC
  19. "Yellow-headed Parrot (Amazona oratrix)" (PDF). Defenders of Wildlife. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 15, 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-23.
  20. "Stuttgart Amazon Parrots - City Parrots -".
  21. Falcón, Wilfredo; Tremblay, Raymond L. (2018). "From the cage to the wild: introductions of Psittaciformes to Puerto Rico". PeerJ. 6:e5669: e5669. doi:10.7717/peerj.5669. PMC   6214232 . PMID   30397538 . Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  22. "Bleaching and Painting of Parrots". City Parrots. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  23. "Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot". Hogle Zoo. 2002–2006. Archived from the original on 2008-04-17. Retrieved 2006-08-23.
  24. Larry Lachman; Diane Grindol; Frank Kocher (2003). Birds Off the Perch: Therapy and Training for Your Pet Bird . Simon and Schuster. p.  7. ISBN   0-7432-2704-2.
  25. "The Amazon Parrot".
  26. "The Amazing Amazon Parrots". The Parrot Post.
  27. "Amazon Parrot Update". Animal and Pet Adventures.
  28. "Feathered Family Inc. - Parrot Rescue and Adoption, Erie CO". 12 February 2008. Archived from the original on 12 February 2008.
  29. "New Hope Animal Hospital - bird medical symptoms". 8 June 2008. Archived from the original on 8 June 2008.
  30. 1 2 "Double Yellow-Headed Amazon Parrot". Lafeber Company. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  31. "YELLOW-HEADED AMAZON (Amazona oratrix)". World Parrot Trust. Retrieved 14 April 2021.