The Yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix), also known as the Yellow-headed Parrot, Double Yellow-headed Amazon, etc., is an endangered amazon parrot of Mexico and northern Central America. Measuring 38"?43 cm (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 often considered a subspecies of the Yellow-crowned Amazon. It is a popular pet and an excellent talker.
This species is part of the Amazona ochrocephala complex, which also includes the Yellow-naped Amazon (A. auropalliata). This complex, "a taxonomic headache", 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 close proximity of A. oratrix and A. auropalliata in Oaxaca, Mexico, without apparent interbreeding, and the presence of both A. ochrocephala and A. auropalliata in northern Honduras. 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. In 1997, the population from the Sula Valley in northern Honduras was described as a new subspecies, hondurensis, of A. oratrix. A. auropalliata caribaea on the Islas de la Bahía, which is in relatively close proximity to the recently described A. oratrix hondurensis, may have a relatively pale lower mandible, indicating that gene flow may occur between the two. 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. The members of this complex are known to hybridize in captivity, and recent phylogenetic analysis of DNA do not support the split.
When split, A. oratrix traditionally includes the taxa tresmariae (from Tres Marías Islands), belizensis (from Belize) and hondurensis (from Sula Valley, Honduras) as subspecies An additional subspecies, magma, has sometimes been recognized for the population on the Gulf slope of Mexico, but today most authorities considered it invalid, instead including this population in oratrix, which also occurs on the Pacific slope of Mexico. In contrast, the population in north-western 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, but until this population is officially described, the name remains provisional.
The "doubling" of the head due to the ruffling of feathers
The origin of the common epithet "Double Yellow-headed" is obscure but, when excited, this species raises its neck and crown feathers, making the head seem to double in size; this reflex is common to many species of parrots, however.
This name could also refer to the two colors of yellow feathers present on the head; one is slightly paler than the other. The head's yellow-feathered area extends with age to cover the entire head down to the neck. New feathers present in a deeper yellow. This range of color could be represented by RGB: 255, 255, 102 to RGB: 255, 255, 10.
The Yellow-headed Amazon averages 35"?38 cm (14"?15 in) long. 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.
8 weeks old.
The bill is horn-colored, darker in immatures of the Belizean and Honduran 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 in the Mexican state of Nayarit (tresmariae); just the head in the widespread subspecies of Mexico (oratrix); just the crown in Belize, Guatemala, and far northwestern Honduras (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.
The variety "Magna" (or "Magnum") is bred for more yellow and commands a premium price as a pet. 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.
Wild birds give low-pitched, sometimes human-sounding screams, but often fly silently (unlike many other parrots). Howell and Webb render some calls as "a rolled kyaa-aa-aaah and krra-aah-aa-ow, a deep, rolled ahrrrr or ahrhrrrr," etc. Young birds make a "clucking" sound to indicate that they are hungry.
Distribution and habitat
This species lives in riparian forest and areas with scattered trees, as well as evergreen forest in Belize and mangroves in Guatemala. It occurs in 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. However, their numbers have been reduced drastically"?by 90 percent, to 7,000, from the mid 1970s to 1994, and by 68 percent from 1994 to 2004"?because of capture for the pet trade and habitat destruction.
The Yellow-headed Amazon is on the CITES list Appendix I, which by international treaty, has made export, import and trade of wild-caught Yellow-headed Amazons illegal and the trade in birds bred in aviculture subject to controls in most of the world. Captive-bred Yellow-headed Amazons can be sold and owned legally subject to checks and regulations. Generally, throughout the world, sale of Appendix I species bred in aviculture must be accompanied with official certification which is provided by the breeder, and they must have a closed ring on one leg.
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. An estimated 90% of poached Yellow-headed Amazons die before they are sold. Yellow-headed Parrots nest in holes in tree trunks or fallen branches. Poachers usually hack at the nest site with a machete to steal parrots, which is especially destructive because habitat is lost at the same time that the wild parrot population is reduced.
Qualities as pets
Albeit it is only lawful to keep captive-bred Yellow-headed Amazons, these are widely available (if somewhat expensive) and their personalities make them highly desirable pets; they have been kept as such for centuries because they are among the parrots that "talk" best. Their vocal abilities are generally considered to be bested only by the African Grey Parrot and matched by similar species such as the Yellow-naped Parrot. They are also considered loud, active, intelligent, funny, and willful. They like to test their owners and to attract the attention of visitors.
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", along with the Yellow-Naped and Blue Front.