Breeding of the Yellow-shouldered Amazon. PART I

March 10th, 2016 | by Tony Silva
Breeding of the Yellow-shouldered Amazon. PART I
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Read also the second part of this article:

Breeding of the Yellow-shouldered Amazon. PART II

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I was a young and inexperienced aviculturist when I first met Ramon Noegel. For decades Noegel the doyen of Amazon parrot breeders worldwide. He was eccentric, charismatic, intelligent and showed an avicultural prowess that few could emulate. He achieved successes when others could only dream about them. It was in his collection that I first saw the Yellow-shouldered Amazon Amazona barbadensis—a small, voluble and charismatic species. At the time, the Yellow-shouldered was very rare in aviculture. It had never been the subject of trade, and the few birds in aviculture were scattered; all had been imported as pets, had been singletons that had been imported with other species, or were acquired by sailors who sold them on reaching a port of call. When I lived in the Canary Islands, on several occasions I stumbled upon sailors returning from Venezuela with a Yellow-shouldered they were trying to sell at the market Nuestra Señora de Africa.

Ramon had a single bird at the time—a male that spoke and had a personality more analogous to a small child than an Amazon. I fell in love with that bird. It laughed, whistled, played and would hang in every imaginable position. Ramon said he would not stop until he found it a mate and breed it. This he did.

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Amazona barbadensis rothschildi. Note the stocky body and extensive yellow on head. (c) Tony Silva

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Noegel had outstanding breeding success with Amazons. The Cayman Island Amazons Amazona leucocephala caymanensis was first bred in captivity by him in 1974. The following year he bred the Isle of Pines Amazon Amazona leucocephala palmarum, followed by the Black-billed Amazon Amazona agilis in 1978, the Cayman Brac and Tucuman Amazons Amazona leucocephala hesterna and Amazona tucumana respectively in 1981, both subspecies of Amazona barbadensis in 1982 and the Red-browed Amazona rhodocorytha, Yellow-lored Amazona xantholora and the parvipes subspecies of the Yellow-naped Amazon Amazona auropalliata in 1984. All of these were first captive breedings.

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After he acquired every barbadensis that he could find, Ramon Noegel stressed the validity of the two subspecies which had been described; he was convinced the birds could be separated into the two forms, though their origin was obscure and some individuals showed intermediate features. Allegedly Amazona barbadensis barbadensis, which occurs on mainland Venezuela, is more colorful than the insular Amazona barbadensis rothschildi found on the islands of Bonaire, Margarita and Blanquilla off northern Venezuela.

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When German ornithologist Ernst Hartert, in 1892, named rothschildi (after Walter Rothschild, 1868-1937) he described the diagnostic feature as a bird that was less colorful than the nominate subspecies. The nominate form, Amazona barbadensis barbadensis, had been described by J.F.Gmelin in 1788. Gmelin was apparently confused. He named the bird after Barbados, where it does not occur; the type of Psittacus barbadensis either originated from mainland Venezuela or less likely Aruba, where the parrot is now extinct. Such errors were not atypical at the time. For example, the Mexican Amazona viridigenalis was described by Cassin in 1853 as coming from ‘South America’ and the Brazilian Amazona pretrei pretrei by Temminck in 1830 as originating in Mexico

The validity of rothschildi has been the subject of contention. In Handbook of Birds of the World, volume 4 (1997), Josep del Hoyo and associates describe rothschildi as invalid as a subspecies. Juniper and Parr (A Guide to Parrots of the World, 1998) agree, writing: “The name rosthschildi has been given to birds on the islands in the S Caribbean on account of less yellow on bend of wing with some red feathers mixed in, a shorter tail and less heavy bill. However, these differences are apparently aged- rather than range-related”. They did not recognize rothschldi as valid. In contrast, Thomas Arndt and Matthias Reinschmidt in their book on the genus (Amazonen, 2 volumes, 2006-2009) recognize both subspecies.

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My opinion about the validity of rosthschildi has varied over the years but with mounting evidence I am convinced the insular form is indeed valid. If one were to examine a very large series, it quickly becomes apparent that in fact the less colorful form occurs on the mainland and that individuals with more yellow on the head and a stockier body are found on the islands. There are also behavioral differences that are apparent in adults.

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Amazona barbadensis barbadensis. Note the reduced amount of yellow on the head. (c) Tony Silva

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Amazona barbadensis is relatively small and has a comparatively small head. These are adaptations for surviving in a dry habitat. In fact, this parrot prefers dry scrub, a relatively arid environment; indeed it appears to have evolved to survive in dry areas, eating whatever food is available, nesting in trees or in rock facings, and producing relatively large clutches. Its numbers fluctuate a great deal, diminishing in very inhospitable years and flourishing during wet years. This has, in evolutionary terms, made it a willing breeder and highly adaptable.

After the environmental stressors, collection for the local pet trade is a militating factor. Throughout the range this species is regarded as a good talker and is consequently traded (albeit illegally) as pets. One can understand why they are so popular when one is familiar with their personality. It is these same traits that make it such a coveted aviary bird.

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Because Amazona barbadensis adapts readily to captivity and is relatively easy to breed, it is now well established in aviculture worldwide—a distinct difference from thirty years ago when seeing one individual was considered fortuitous. So successful has the species been that in Florida alone no fewer than 60 young are produced yearly by a handful of breeders.

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author: Tony Silva

Title photo: (c) Tony Silva

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