A is for Amazon
The bird named after its homeland, a region of dark rivers and dense jungles, the Amazon parrot has become one of the most popular species in the pet bird trade. Once the bird-of-choice for pirates and kings, the Amazon parrot is now widely found in homes across the globe. Amazons were first brought to Europe with Columbus in 1492 and their popularity as a companion animal hasn’t waned since. Companion birds rise in popularity for various reasons—beauty, intelligence, lifespan, personality—and the Amazon has it all. This “flashy” bird is a favorite among fanciers who prize it for its confidence, affectionate nature, and appearance.
The Amazon comes in such a variety of sizes, colors, and prices that there’s a species suited for everyone willing to take on the responsibility of this bold bird—there are twenty-seven species to choose from. The Amazon is a fun and challenging pet who may need more understanding than many other species—this is a bird you will want to get to know quickly. Learning about your Amazon’s natural behavior may help to save your antiques and your fingers!
B is for Behavior
The Amazon parrot is an “open book” bird. These birds do not hide their feelings. They are show-offs—you won’t have to guess how your Amazon is feeling. “Amazon body language is as obvious as any species I’ve ever worked with,” said Liz Wilson, parrot behavior analyst and state representative of the Amazona Society for Pennsylvania. She has worked with parrots for 30 years. “They are very easy to read. An Amazon in full display has its neck feathers raised, wings flexed, tail feathers fanned, its eyes flashing, and the bird is strutting: that is a bird that will probably draw blood if you try to pick it up.”
C is for Captivating
Part of the Amazon’s popularity comes from its captivating personality. This bird is a charmer. Most Amazons know how to charm and beguile their owners—like most smart parrots, they can be manipulative little beasts too—but that’s all part of their charm. “The Amazon is the kind of bird who will get right in your face and preen your eyelashes and your ears, then try to pull off one of your earrings and run,” said Diana Holloway, president of the Amazona Society and owner of seven pet Amazons.
Beauty, brains, and fun. “I like what Phoebe Linden said, that ‘a happy healthy Amazon is like a free-standing home entertainment center,’ meaning that they just like to party,” said Wilson. “Amazons are the most exuberant, alive bird on the planet. They sing, dance, and play—Amazons are and barrel of laughs to watch and listen to.”
D is for Demolition
Like most parrots, Amazons love to chew, and they have the added bonus of being basically fearless—this combination often leads to the bird getting into things it shouldn’t. “Demolition is natural parrot behavior,” said Wilson. “It’s not the bird’s problem that he just ate your stereo. In the wild you can tell where parrots hang out by all the detritus on the ground. They are happily up in the trees shredding away. This behavior will not stop, so it’s up to the human, who is supposedly more intelligent, to control the destructive behavior. Keep the bird away from all heirlooms and give them proper things to chew on. You cannot train them to not destroy. These birds are what they are and can’t be anything else. We have to accept them the way they are.”
E is for Exercise
Parrots in the wild are used to flying and climbing for a good part of their day, either searching for food, nesting, or playing. The captive Amazon parrot doesn’t have these duties, and as a result, often becomes porky. I once had a rescued mealy Amazon for a few years (now placed in a breeding situation) that was so heavy my avian veterinarian would say, “My scale doesn’t go that high!” when I’d bring him in for an exam. This bird preferred spaghetti and meatballs to air and sunshine—he’d say “I love you” on cue for a lick of ice cream. In short, this bird did nothing but eat and sit around waiting to eat. I’m happy to say that he’s now svelte and has a mate he loves—no thanks to me!
Amazons have to be encouraged to exercise. The use of a playgym and interactive toys will help get the bird active. Nothing, however, can replace your interaction with your bird. Playtime is a great way to get your bird moving.
F is for Feathers
As a rule, the Amazon parrot is mainly shades of green, with yellow, orange, red, blue, and white occurring on various spots, depending on the species. The most interesting thing about Amazon feathers is that the Amazon lacks the “preen gland” found at the base of the tail of most other parrots. This gland is used to “oil” the feathers and keep them waterproof and supple. The lack of this gland doesn’t seem to affect the Amazon—just “water” your bird to find out that its feathers are as water proof as any other bird’s feathers!
G is for Glamorous
Many people buy parrots because of the “glamour factor,” feeling that this pet is somehow a status symbol. While this is a terrible reason to own a parrot (we all know that!), the Amazon is one of the more glamorous companion parrots.
“Amazons are so regal,” said Holloway. “A good looking Amazon is absolutely gorgeous and the bird knows it. A beautiful Amazon will strut its stuff and show off. It will puff up, talk, raise its wings—Amazons love to be “on.” I always think of Amazons as divas—so full of themselves, egotistical, and outspoken.”
H is for Housing
No bird likes to be kept in a cramped cage, and the Amazon is no exception. Cramped quarters result in unhealthy birds, both physically and emotionally. “Amazons need big cages, the bigger the better,” said Holloway. “Amazons can become ‘stuffed puffalumps.’ They need to climb, flap their wings, and swing. I’ve seen Amazons that had to be literally cut out of their cages because the cages were too small. Amazons should spend time out of their cages. They just can’t sit in one place. They need to be encouraged to fly and flap. They need play stands and lots of toys.”
Cage accessories for this bird include lots of toys of all sorts and locking dishes—An Amazon that’s trying to get your attention will learn to dump its food in no time! Include lots of toys that your bird can chew, as well as a few indestructible toys that will last.
I is for Intelligence
Amazons are incredibly intelligent birds, and will often learn to train their owners before their owners learn to train them! If you live with an Amazon you will soon find that it can make you come running with incessant vocalizations, will make you pick things up off the floor for fun (a hundred times a day), and knows how to get you to do its bidding—this is not a dumb bird!
Amazons, especially the yellow-naped, are often used in theme parks in the animal shows. A good trainer can teach the Amazon many behaviors, often using the bird’s vocalizations. Don’t underestimate your Amazon’s capacity to learn—he might be fooling you into thinking he’s just another pretty face!
J is for Jungle
Amazons have a wide range, far greater than that of the Amazon basin. These birds are found as north as Mexico and almost to the ocean at the other end. Amazons are also found on islands such as Cuba and Hispanola. Because of this wide range, and because of the many species and sub-species of Amazon, these birds have varied needs. Some hail from the tropical rainforests while others are programmed to survive in the low scrublands.
K is for Knavish
This is a bird that’s full of mischief and needs an owner that is both patient and willing to take the time to train their bird. While a dog can learn to “sit” in a matter of minutes, an Amazon parrot will not stop its unwanted behavior without many, many short training sessions. It’s not that the Amazon isn’t learning—not at all—it’s that these birds like to “do their own thing.” Training, right from the start, is a must.
“Like most parrots, Amazons aren’t good ‘starter birds.’ They are headstrong, like most parrots, and are a handful,” said Wilson. “There’s virtually no species of parrot that aren’t potentially headstrong, and Amazons are no exception. Amazons, like most parrots, need training from the beginning, before there is a behavior problem. One in a hundred people, or more, call me looking for knowledge before the parrot has a problem. This is a bird that needs controls from the very beginning.”
L is for Lifespan
Amazons can live between 40 and 80 years of age if properly cared for. This can be a pro or a con, depending on how you look at it: on the pro side, you have the potential for keeping this pet your whole life; on the con side, you will have to think about where the bird will live once you are gone. Will your kids want it? The neighbors? Many people generate a trust for their birds so that they are provided for in the event of the owner’s death. This isn’t a bad idea. You may want to talk to a lawyer and start putting some money aside for your birds—think of it like your bird’s retirement fund!
M is for Mimicking
Many Amazons have a remarkable ability for learning human sounds. While they are not as “talkative” as the African grey parrot, Amazons such as the yellow-naped and the double yellow headed come a close second, though many Amazon fanatics would argue that they are even better! Amazons seem to love to sing, especially opera (if you can stand it!), and they can learn to whistle very easily.
“I have seven different amazons and they all will imitate each other,” said Holloway. “They all have different sounds. My father is an Englishman and they mimic his accent. They always imitate me—I go in every day and say, ‘Are you all right, are you okay?’ then they say ‘what’s for breakfast’ and ‘what a mess.’ The things they we say to them they say back.”
“My Amazons say ‘hello’ when the phone rings, say ‘come in’ when my wife is at the door downstairs,” said Dick Ivy, Amazon breeder and officer in the Amazona Society education director of Bird Clubs of America editor of The AmaZone, a printed forum about breeding Amazons. “They call me from upstairs for supper, "Dihk" with an upscale yell.”
Do Amazons understand what they are saying? Research with African grey parrots by Dr. Irene Pepperberg suggests that parrots can learn to understand the words they use. However, this won’t happen unless you actually teach your bird what the words mean.
N is for Nutrition
Parrots need a well-rounded, nutritious diet to thrive—this included fresh fruit, vegetables, and safe table foods. However, because of the Amazon propensity to become porky, you should watch your bird’s intake of high-caloric foods, including seed. Talk to your avian veterinarian about the best diet for your Amazon. Sugary, salty, and fatty treats such as candy and potato chips should be avoided. Opt for carrots and strawberries instead!
“As treats, we give our Amazons one banana slice each, a few small shredded wheat biscuits, and usually a quarter of a piece of wheat or seed-type toast, sometimes with peanut butter spread thinly on it,” said Ivy. “They like graham crackers, celery, corn on the cob, peanuts in the shell, cold spaghetti, fruits (orange, apple, mango, passion fruit, kiwi, grapes, cranberries, starfruits), etc. When we eat, they want to eat.”
O is for One-person Bird
Amazons are sometimes classified as “one-person birds,” meaning that a bird will become attached to one person in the family to the exclusion of all others. This is often the case, but it doesn’t have to be. Of the seven Amazons I’ve had (all rescues), only one was a one-person bird, and there was no amount of training to remedy that—no one could go near him but me. This red-lored would chase the other family members around the house with such a threatening posture that the whole family would run and shut their doors!
“The one-person bird is a fallacy that is totally incorrect,” said Wilson. “Parrots choose one person that they prefer, just like humans choose one person to marry, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t interact with other humans. A one-person bird is a behavior problem that needs to be fixed. Most parrots will be one-person birds if you let them. Sally Blanchard said that people will expect this because they are told to expect it. When the bird chooses one person the others withdraw because their feelings are hurt. Then bird only gets interaction by one person and becomes a one-person bird. Unfortunately, there are a lot of humans who like that their bird will only interact with them. This, in my opinion, is a human behavior problem.”
P is for “Perch Potato”
It can’t be said enough that the companion Amazon parrot likes the cushy life. No need to search for food, no need to find a safe watering hole, no need to even move from the spot on the perch right in front of the seed dish. This inactivity leads one of the Amazon’s primary health problems—obesity. It might seem cute to have a portly parrot, but an overweight bird is prone to tumors and other diseases. Keeping your bird at a normal, healthy weight will keep you and your bird out of the veterinarian’s office!
Providing a good diet, healthy snacks, and lots of exercise will go a long way to keeping your bird in marathon condition.
Q is for QUIET!
If you long for silence, don’t bring an Amazon parrot into your home. Some Amazons are louder than others, though none of them are known to be the “quiet type.” The big mealy Amazon I mentioned earlier had such a loud voice and was so persistent in his calls that he brought in letters of complaint from the neighbors, who suggested that the bird “sounded like he was in pain.” This was the big joke in my family for a long time—“stop abusing that bird,” they’d say, laughing, as I ran to his every beck and call!
“Amazons yell when the sun comes up and yell when the sun goes down,” said Holloway. “If you don’t give them attention they will contact call you—they want to know that you’re there. If you just walk in to where they are when you’re busy and let them know you’re there they will be fine. There’s a difference between a contact call and screaming. If they scream there’s something wrong. Some have shriller voices than others, like orange wings and Mealys.”
R is for Reproduction
If you want to breed your Amazon, do not expect it to remain your faithful friend. Also, don’t expect babies right away—or ever. “Amazons are not easy to breed,” concurred Howard Voren, aviculturalist specializing in New World birds. “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 towards humans during breeding, because they have no fear of the human intruder.”
S is for Species
There are twenty-seven species of Amazon parrot, but only a handful are commonly kept as pets. This “handful” became popular in the pet trade due to their large numbers imported and their being successfully bred in captivity.
Among these popular pets are the yellow-naped, double yellow head, blue-fronted, red-lored, lilac-crowned, green-cheeked, mealy, white-fronted, and the yellow-crowned. These birds can be purchased for between $400 and $1500 or more, depending on where you live. Do your research before you buy—each species has a different temperament and personality.
T is for Testing Your Patience
Because the Amazon is so intelligent and bold, it tends to test the patience of its owners—especially the owner who isn’t prepared for this feisty bird. Amazons have gotten a “bad rap” lately. It’s strange how a bird can be kept for hundreds of years and suddenly develop a reputation for being difficult—this “bad rap” has more to do with how people treat the bird than the bird itself.
“The most interesting thing about all the bad publicity Amazons have had recently is due to us breeding them domestically,” said Wilson. “Their behavior is shaped by the way they are raised. A wild caught Amazon had been taught manners by the other birds in the flock, but domestically raised Amazons are not taught this way by humans. I’ve been working with birds for over 30 years and Amazons didn’t used to have this reputation. Amazons are fabulous birds for the right kind of person, just like a Rottweiler is a great dog for the right kind of person. If you are incapable of controlling a dog you will never be able to control an Amazon.”
U is for Uncommon
Besides the endangered and rare Amazons, the most uncommon Amazons are the new mutations. There are blue yellow-naped and cinnamon red-loreds, among others. These birds can catch a big price, far exceeding the most expensive of the regular mutations.
Howard Voren, the renowned breeder of South and Central American birds, was the first to breed a blue yellow-naped in the United States. He searched for years for this mythical bird, and finally found one in South America. The bird was owned by a pistol-toting roughneck, who gave Howard a hard time before finally agreeing to part with it. This first blue-naped talks non-stop, shouting out political slogans in Spanish and calling soccer games: goal, goal, goal! I’ve had the privilege of seeing these beautiful mutations at Voren’s farm, and I can tell you that they are remarkable—well worth the cost—if you have $5000.00 to $30,000 to spare!
V is for Vanishing
Some Amazons in the wild are in danger of extinction due to their territory being burnt and turned into cropland. It’s the old story—humans push out the animals to make way for themselves. In some cases, the birds themselves are destroyed because they are considered a nuisance. Even when the country where the endangered Amazon exists comes to recognize the problem, it is often too late. Efforts to breed these birds are made, but there are often too few in the gene pool. Among the Amazons that you won’t likely find in the pet trade are the sought-after yellow-shouldered Amazon (A. barbadensis), the tucuman (A. tucumana), the Hispaniolan Amazon (A. ventralis), the Cuban Amazon (A. leucocephala) and the yellow-lored Amazon (A. xantholora), among others.
W is for World Wide Web
The Internet is a great place to go to find information about Amazons. Try searching on “Amazon parrot” or go to the following:
X is for “x-citeable”
The famous “Amazon overload” is responsible for many of the bites Amazons have landed on their owners. These birds are curious and excitable by nature, and when the environment becomes “too much” the bird can become “too much” too.
“Amazons can get ‘Amazon overload’ when they get over excited,” said Holloway. “Just like a child, they get a little out of control and that is the time to stay very calm. Their head feathers fluff, the tail flares, and the eyes pin—you have to be cautious. Put the bird gently back in the cage with a stick—you should always have your birds stick trained. The one thing about Amazons is that you know exactly what they’re going to do. You never have to be bitten. Get to know your bird.”
Y is for Yipee!
Yipee!: What you’ll say when you bring home your first Amazon parrot.
Yell: What you’ll do when you get bitten for the first time.
Yoga: What you’ll take up.
Yearn: What you’ll do for another Amazon!
Z is for Zest for Life
The Amazon parrot is cavalier, loud, joyful, and ready to discover new things and chew on the old ones. The Amazon owner, too, is a person who wants a bird who is curious about its environment, talkative, affectionate—lively. The Amazon isn’t right for everyone, however. Take a look at your life: if you have energy to spare, can afford a lifetime supply of ear plugs, and don’t mind a nip or two, then an Amazon might be right for you.