Living with a Red-lored Amazon
Continuing with Amazon parrots, here’s an article I wrote for “Parrots” magazine (issue 117, July 2007) about my Red-lored Amazon, Ripley.
Living With a Red-Lored Amazon
The Red-lored Amazon (Amazona autumnalis) is a medium-sized parrot that is native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.I have the privilege of sharing my life with one of these striking, good-natured parrots.My husband, Quentin, and I obtained her through a local parrot club. We received a message from the club’s E-mail list concerning a Red-lored Amazon for sale and it took only a few seconds for us to decide to have a look. We had been considering adding an Amazon to our family for a while because of their outgoing nature and adaptability.We met Ripley and since she was calm around our dogs and seemed to like Quentin and me, we decided to adopt her.
Judging by the open band on Ripley’s leg, which contains a three-letter code for a Florida-based import station, she is a wild-caught parrot.Red-lored Amazons are listed on CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II, meaning that the species is not in immediate danger of extinction, but could become so if trade were not regulated. Thankfully, it is now illegal to import wild parrots into the United States and Canada. However, there are sometimes older, mature wild-caught Amazons up for adoption there.
Appearance and Origin
There are four Red-lored Amazon subspecies, with the nominate one, Amazona autumnalis autumnalis (Ripley’s subspecies) being the most common in aviculture.This subspecies is sometimes referred to as the Yellow-cheeked Amazon or the Red-lored Parrot.Like other Amazon parrots, Red lores are stocky, predominantly green birds with bright splashes of colour on their faces, wings, and tails. At about 33 to 36 cm tall, they are one of the medium-sized Amazons, and are smaller than Blue-fronted (A. aestiva) or Double-yellow Headed Amazons (A. ochrocephala), but are slightly larger than White-fronted Amazons (A. albifrons). Red-lored Amazons have (you guessed it!) a red forehead, combined with yellow cheeks, a mauve-coloured crown, and grey-tipped nape feathers.Some individuals have red feathers on the cheeks and under the chin. The eyes are orange and are surrounded by a white ring and the flight feathers have dark blue or red tips.The tail feathers are dark green at the base with lime green tips. A small number of yellow mutation Red-lores have been bred in captivity.
Red-lored Amazon Subspecies
A. a. autumnalis occurs from the lowlands of eastern Mexico south to northern Nicaragua.They also occur on the Bay Islands, Honduras, which are slightly east of the mainland.Additionally, a small number of feral individuals live among larger flocks of Green-cheeked (A. viridigenalis) and Lilac-crowned Amazons (A. finschi) in southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. In northern Nicaragua, autumnalis intergrades with the next subspecies, the Salvin’s Amazon, A. a. salvini. This subspecies is very similar to the nominate one, and the two likely interbreed where their ranges overlap. However, the Salvin’s Amazon is, on average, slightly larger, and lacks the yellow cheek patches that autumnalis has.This subspecies ranges from Nicaragua to western Colombia and northwest Venezuela. The parrot, Tiko, featured in the book, “The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship,” by ornithologist Joanna Burger, is a Salvin’s Amazon.This book is a great read for anyone interested in what life with an Amazon can be like.
The Salvin’s Amazon starts to intergrade with the Lilacine Amazon (A. a. lilacina) in southwest Colombia.The Lilacine Amazon occurs there and in Ecuador, so it is also referred to as the Ecuadorian Amazon. Lilacine Amazons differ from Salvin’s Amazons in having the forepart of the crown red, and a darker grey beak.
The last subspecies is the Diademed Amazon (A. a. diadema).They look quite similar to the Salvin’s Amazon, but the nape is pale green and the cheeks have a bluish tinge. Their range does not overlap with the other subspecies’ ranges, as Diademed Amazons occur in northwestern Brazil. Diademed Amazons are very rare in captivity.
In captivity, the Salvin’s, Lilacine, and Diademed Amazons could be mistaken for the similar and closely related Lilac-Crowned and Green-cheeked Amazons. However, the latter two species have much lighter horn-colored beaks that make them easily distinguishable from any Red-lored subspecies. The yellow cheeks of the Red-lored Amazon make them easy to distinguish from the other Amazon species that have red foreheads.
Feeding a Red-Lored Amazon
Very little is known about the diet of Red-lored Amazons in the wild. Forshaw’s Parrots of the World notes that they feed on fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, buds and blossoms. These likely come from several dozen different plant species, as a study on a related species, the Lilac-crowned Amazon (Renton, 2001), found that the parrots ate the seeds and fruits of at least 33 different plants. Seeds formed the majority (81.8%) of the Lilac-crowned Amazon’s diet, with fruit (8.8%), insects (6.6%), and bromeliad stems (2.9%) forming of the remainder of the diet. Most of the seeds eaten were unripe.
It is not possible to precisely replicate the diet of a wild Amazon parrot for a captive one, as most of the seeds and fruits that they eat are not available to pet owners.
Additionally, a diet consisting primarily of seeds is not necessarily the best one for a pet Amazon, because seeds are high in fat and most pet parrots are not nearly as active as wild ones, which must fly several kilometers each day in search of food. Furthermore, most of the seed mixes available for pet parrots lack many essential vitamins, such as vitamin A, that are needed by parrots for optimal health .Many pet food manufacturers produce parrot pellets that contain all the vitamins and minerals parrots are believed to need based on studies of captive birds of a limited number of species.
Ripley’s base diet consists of Roudy Bush and Harrison’s brand parrot pellets, and she has a bowl of these available in her cage at all times. Each morning, she receives a treat of either a nutriberry, a small piece of spray millet, or an almond in the shell. Each evening, she is treated to a bowl of fresh food, which could consist of a mixture of vegetables, fruits, or cooked grain. Sweet potato, mango, and red peppers also make up a large part of the fresh foods in Ripley’s diet because of their high vitamin A content. I also sometimes clip broccoli, dandelion leaves, or wheat grass in her cage in the morning before I leave for work. A few times a week, she is given a spoonful of a seed and nut mixture. Ripley seems to particularly enjoy the cooked parrot mix I prepare periodically. This consists of different cooked grains (brown rice, whole wheat couscous, and/or quinoa) mixed with lentils, peas, carrots, and any other vegetables I have on hand. Ripley becomes quite excited when given this, and she trills and whistles while she eats it. Amazon parrots are rarely picky eaters and tend to enjoy their food very much. Unfortunately, they are also prone to obesity, which is why I limit the amount of seed Ripley eats.
The Importance of Showers
Being rain forest parrots, most Red-lored Amazons absolutely adore being showered. This essential part of parrot care should not be neglected, as Amazons that are rarely or never showered tend to have very dry skin and dull, dusty feathers. Ripley loves to be showered with a spray bottle, and becomes very excited and noisy while she is being sprayed. She’ll laugh, whistle, trill, and flap her wings exuberantly during a shower, and she is obviously enjoying herself very much. During showers, I typically keep spraying her until she’s soaked to the skin and couldn’t possibly get any wetter. I aim the spray bottle above Ripley’s head during a shower, as most parrots don’t appreciate being sprayed right in the face. Ripley is given a shower several times each week, and she always appreciates receiving them.
Housing an Amazon
As with any parrot, go with the “bigger is better” rule when choosing a cage for an Amazon. Since most parrots love to climb, at least some of the cage bars should be horizontal. The cage should be large enough to hold several perches, a few toys, and food and water dishes, while still giving the parrot room to move around, climb, and flap her wings.
Of course, an Amazon should not be stuck in a cage all day, as any parrot can quickly become bored, frustrated and aggressive if kept alone and confined constantly. An Amazon whose social needs are neglected will also be more likely to become a problem screamer. Ripley is out of her cage whenever Quentin or I am home and she has two play stands (one on each floor) so she can be with us wherever we are. She does not scream often when we are at home and I think the fact that she is with us while we go about our daily activities explains why. We try not to give her any reasons to scream by making sure she is not lonely or in need of anything.
While they are very social birds, Amazons are flexible and can be independent when needed, so most are capable of amusing themselves while their people are away at work. An Amazon’s cage should be stocked with toys so she will have something to do during the day. Like most Amazons, Ripley enjoys chewing, so she is often given fresh branches and pieces of wood to destroy. I also have a parrot toy box full of toys that I rotate in and out of Ripley’s cage so she often has something different to play with, and I’ve placed all my parrot’s cages in the same room so they can watch and chatter to each other during the day. However, since the other parrots (a Maroon-bellied Conure and two Lineolated Parakeets) are much smaller than Ripley, they are not allowed to directly interact with her.
Personality and Talking Ability
I hate making generalizations about a parrot species’ personality, as every bird is an individual and may have a unique set of quirks, and likes and dislikes. Additionally, a parrot’s personality will depend on how it has been treated by humans. However, Ripley’s bold, outgoing, adaptable and resilient nature exemplifies the “typical” Amazona persona.Amazons are not prone to problems like feather-plucking, excessive screaming, or extreme fearfulness, although these problems are not completely unheard of. Providing a pet Amazon with enrichment and plenty of companionship (human or parrot) makes these problems less likely to occur.
Ripley is a very confident parrot, and she enjoys outings outside the house, and is quite calm, fearless, and well behaved when she goes out. Ripley often comes with my husband and me to several small local businesses that include a book shop, a pet supply shop, an aquarium shop, and a movie shop. She seems to like the tanks of large cichlid fish at the aquarium shop. These fish often crowd up to her when we put her up to the glass and she usually looks at them and whistles or laughs. There’s a fish tank in our living room that she likes to look at as well.
Amazon parrots, particularly the Blue-fronted, Yellow-naped, Double Yellow-headed and Yellow-fronted types, have a reputation for being excellent talkers. Many Red-lored Amazons learn to speak very well, but others do not.Overall, the species is a moderate talker.Quite a few of them, like Ripley, love to whistle and produce other interesting sound effects. She has a large repertoire of loud beeps, squeaks, trills, and whistles, and sounds quite a bit like R2D2 from the Star Wars movies. She also has a very cute, human-sounding laugh that she uses with great frequency. She often does try to speak, especially if she hears people talking, but her voice is not clear and I think she strings together random syllables to try to mimic our speech. So far, all I can make out from Ripley are, “good girl,” “what’cha doin’,” and “where you goin’.”This is fine with me, as I generally do not care if my parrots talk or not and admittedly haven’t put much effort into speech training them, although I do talk to them a lot. Ripley is not at all shy about vocalizing in front of strangers, and she can be very loud when speaking or whistling. She always chimes in with a loud string of gibberish when Quentin or I are on the phone.I would not recommend a Red-lore, or any other Amazon, for someone looking for a quiet pet. Ripley’s natural call is very loud and monotonous, but she only uses it during the morning when she first awakes and in the evening right when my husband or I get home. It is normal for Amazon parrots to vocalize loudly during these times – they are simply calling to their other human “flock” members, which may be people or other birds in the house.
Amazons in general do have a reputation, not entirely unfounded, for being aggressive and difficult to handle during the breeding season. This is particularly true for males. However, in some individuals, breeding season passes with no problems.Red-lored Amazons are one of the gentler, even-tempered Amazon species, but they too may be territorial at times, especially during the spring. Some of them will strike at strange people who come too close to their cages or play stands. Training a particularly feisty Amazon to step up on a hand-held perch can make it easier for an owner to handle him if he doesn’t want anyone reaching in his cage. This type of training is best done using positive reinforcement.
Amazon Body Language
Luckily, Amazons are rarely subtle in their behaviors, and this makes it easier for an owner to gauge his parrot’s mood and avoid bites by not handling the parrot when he is overly excited or agitated.To me, this is one of the strong points of owning an Amazon. If the parrot owner has researched parrot behavior well, an Amazon should be rather predictable. An Amazon’s eyes are usually light orange, which makes it easy to see when the bird is “pinning” or expanding and contracting his irises rapidly. Ripley’s eyes pin when she’s excited, vocalizing, or trying out a new food. Eye-pinning combined with raised nape feathers, and a fanned-out tail generally indicates that the parrot should not be handed. Amazons in breeding condition may strut back and forth while fanning the tail and pinning the eyes. A strutting, displaying Amazon should likely be left alone. Ripley sometimes struts around on top of her cage and when she does, we (Quentin and I) let her be. Once she stops and calms down, we can pick her up again.
One Person Birds?
Amazon parrots have a reputation for being “one-person” birds that will bite and attack all but the favored person. Males in particular have a tendency to do this. However, Amazons and other parrots can learn to tolerate or enjoy being handled by multiple people if they were well socialized as youngsters and were taught to respond to the “step-up” cue with positive reinforcement by numerous people. However, even if they allow themselves to be handled by a few people, many Amazons will still have a favorite, preferred person.
Ripley bonded with Quentin almost immediately, and she would often nip me when I went to hold her. I also could not place my hand in her cage without being bitten, whereas Quentin could easily take her out of her cage. This is ironic, given that it was my idea to get an Amazon, although Quentin loves parrots as well has become attached to Ripley. I did want Ripley to let me handle her since I wanted to be able to take her out of her cage so she could play on her large play stand when Quentin was not home. I started by frequently offering her sunflower seeds, almonds and peanuts, her favorite treats, from my hand. I’m also the person who usually gives Ripley her showers, and I taught her to step up on a hand-held perch so I could get her out of her cage easily and without being bitten. She was often rewarded with a sunflower seed for stepping on a hand-held perch. I then taught her to step up onto my hand (again, using her favourite treats) and I sometimes rewarded her for stepping on my hand by taking her to Quentin. However, I was always careful to never place her on Quentin’s hand (in other words, reward her) after a bite, so she didn’t learn that she will be rewarded for biting. I can now handle her with few problems, and she sometimes wants me to hold her. She lets me know this by looking towards me while bopping her head and raising her feet. However, Quentin is still the only person who can scratch her head, and Ripley often gently holds onto his thumb while she does this. Amazons are rarely “cuddly” birds, although many enjoy having their heads scratched by their favourite person.
Ripley has made a wonderful addition to my family, and I very much appreciate her intelligence, and her gregarious, bold personality.However, an Amazon parrot can be a very high-maintenance pet, so I would only recommend them to people who have the time to allow their pet a few hours of out of cage time daily, who don’t mind a bit of noise and mess, and who have done some research on parrot training and parrot behavior. However, with the right person, a Red-lored Amazon can make an outstanding, life-long friend.
Forshaw, J. M. 1977. Parrots of the World.T. F. H. Publications, Inc. Neptune, N.J., USA.
Renton, K. 2001. Lilac-crowned parrot diet and food resource availability: Resource tracking by a parrot seed predator. Condor 103: 62-69.