Amazons !

Amazon parrots are strictly neo-tropical in origin, being found from Mexico and across the Caribbean to northern Argentina. Many species come from drier areas and undergo post breeding movements to pursue food resources. They nest principally in trees but terrestrial termitaria, solution holes in the ground and even epiphytes are used by some species. As aviary birds the Amazons are delightful: they are vocal, display their moods easily (often by calling, raising the head feathers and fanning the tail) and most learn to talk, picking up the occasional word they hear. Some become extolled mimics and this is part of the reason for their popularity as pets. We have several that welcome visitors in several languages, laugh, yodel, cough, sneeze and even mumble. They have learned all of these words and sounds by interacting with my help or myself.

Amazon parrots range from the easy to the difficult to breed. The smaller species are the easier, while the largest prove the most problematic. Infertile eggs are not uncommon. This aspect and the aggression some males display towards their mate provides the greatest frustration from an avicultural perspective.

Male amazons in breeding condition become aggressive and vocal. They do not hesitate to attack their keeper. Many also attack their mates, which prove easier to reach than a keeper on the other side of the wire. Because of this, measures need to be taken with species that are known for being aggressive. This list is primarily composed of the Caribbean species, but the Red-spectacled Amazona pretrei and Vinaceous Amazons Amazona vinacea of Brazil and the Venezuelan Yellow-shouldered Amazona barbadensis are also known for becoming overly aggressive. The least aggressive is the Yellow-lored Amazon Amazona xantholora; indeed this species lacks the hyperactive nature of most congeners when nesting. Mine call unexcitedly and lunge but never become the loud and vicious demons that are the rest of the species I keep.

To prevent mate aggression, the breeder should clip one wing on the male. The process is simple: clip the first 5-6 primaries using the wing coverts as a guide. Only one wing should be clipped so as to impede flight. Males with clipped wings can have difficulty reaching perches and food and water bowls when kept in a traditional walk in aviary with solid walls. Because of this, wire ladders should be provided to insure the male can access food, water and perches. The second step the breeder can take is to utilize a T-shaped nest with two entrances. These nests were originally designed for cockatoos but work well with the excitable and very aggressive Cuban Amazona leucocephala, Yellow-billed Amazona collaria and Hispaniolan Amazons Amazona ventralis. The principal behind this nest is that an agitated male cannot entomb and attack a female inside the nest, as he can block and enter only through one of the nest entrances—the other provides an escape route for the female. Finally the aviary length should be at least 3.6 m (12 feet long) for the smaller and at least 4.5 m (15 ft) long for the larger species. Traditional aviaries work well, but aggressive birds can make entering their enclosure difficult. I therefore prefer the suspended cages. The breeder need not enter these cages for cleaning. These cages also work well in a cold climate as long as the birds have access to shelter in winter.

Because amazons become easily excitable, it is important to encourage the birds coming into condition by allowing visual contact with their own kind or another Amazon species. The birds will call, display and lunge at their neighbors. The adjoining cages should always be at least 5 cm (2 in) apart so that the birds cannot bite each other; aviary banks with a single separating mesh are a disaster waiting to happen, as the birds will bite each other’s toes, beaks and tongues. As the breeding season approaches, a visual barrier should be installed. This prevents an overly charged male from attacking his mate while in a display frenzy with another male.

The idea behind the early visual contact is to hormonally charge the male, so that his testes engorge with blood and he becomes fertile. This is one aspect that can lead to fertile eggs. Another is body fat. In an overweight male, the fat places pressure on the testis. This can affect sperm production. By having the birds the proper weight, one can increase the likelihood of success.

Because amazons as a group are very prone to obesity, they need long flight cages and a good diet. The diet can consist of pellets or low fat seeds, considerable amounts of vegetables (especially those rich in beta carotenes, including carrot, sweet potatoes and pumpkin, which should be steamed to facilitate extraction of the beta carotene from the fibers during the digestive process), a little amount of fruits (which being sweet can contribute to obesity—in the wild parrots eat primarily fruit in a green stage, when it is not packed with sugar) and greens. Fatty seeds and carbohydrate rich foods should be avoided. Sprouting or germinating seeds are excellent, as the fat, protein and starches in the seeds are broken down into   easily digestible proteins, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Sprouts are also excellent for bringing a bird into breeding condition. But when provided, they must be washed thoroughly. If the sprouts smell nutty and sweet, they are fine but if the odor is sour or offensive, discard the seeds, as they have become a breeding medium for bacteria. When sprouting the dogma is to wash, wash and wash again with copious amounts of water and to discard the batch if the smell is not sweet and nutty. Eggfood containing boiled or scrambled egg, grated carrot, a little whole grain bread and vitamins and calcium can also be used to bring the birds into condition. I always recommend a frugal maintenance diet in fall and winter and a diet rich in vegetables, sprouts, eggfood and greens in spring and summer. The dramatic changes induce the breeding urge.

For birds that are obese, a diet of small millets, canary sad, buckwheat and other lowfat seeds can be fed to reduce their weight. Usually a period of 8-10 weeks on this diet will bring the body weight to the desired level. Sunflower, safflower and hemp seeds and nuts should be avoided when dealing with obese birds, as they only compound the problem. When placing birds on a diet, it is important to avoid starvation. This only stressed the birds and forces the body to adhere to its stored fat.