Avian Expert Articles

Lafeber’s Global Parrot Conservation Spotlight February 2023: Yellow-Headed Amazons of Belize

yellow-headed Amazon parrot
Adult yellow-headed Amazon Image courtesy Anouk Langerak

A subspecies of the Yellow-Headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix belizensis) is found only in Belize. There are a couple of other yellow-headed subspecies in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras; but overall the Amazona oratrix is considered highly endangered by IUCN and is listed as Appendix I on CITIES. In 1994 it was estimated that in just two decades, a population of approximately 70,000 had declined to less than 7,000 — a 90% decrease!

Unfortunately, the population is thought to have declined another 7-10% each year since. In 2016, the estimated population in Belize was 1,200 individuals at best, but funding to staff an updated count is still needed. Belize is now considered the last major stronghold for this highly valued species.

A Familiar Face

Eight young yellow-headed Amazon parrots are hand-fed
Juvenile yellow-headed Amazon parrots wait to be hand-fed at the Belize Bird Rescue. Image courtesy of Belize Bird Rescue.

The yellow-headed Amazon, which includes the double yellow-headed, is very common as a pet bird in captivity. Not only have they been widely trafficked over several decades, but their lands are being rapidly depleted for agriculture in Belize. These parrots are also attracted to the citrus groves, one of the major agricultural crops of Belize. Unfortunately, some farms have been known to use lethal deterrents. Yellow heads nest in deep pine tree cavities, but with wide-open savannahs, the trees and nests are very visible to potential poachers. As prey animals, parrots already have many natural threats, from raptors, mammals, rodents, nature, and other birds, but this prized species of Amazon faces many extra challenges in Belize and elsewhere.

Serious conservation efforts in Belize began in 2014 by the Belize Bird Rescue (BBR) in close collaboration with TIDE (Toledo Institute for Development and Environment). Chicks not likely to fledge or survive because of poachers, nest viability, or overcrowding in the nest were identified and extracted.

These chicks were then hand-raised at BBR, and once weaned were put into a large flight aviary for a further six months. At the start of the following breeding season, they were released back to the wild into the TIDE-managed Payne’s Creek National Park. Throughout that year (2015), all six birds were seen in the area with their wild counterparts. This successful integration effort spearheaded the start of a continuing program to support the conservation of this important species.

Giving Amazons a Fighting Chance

A young yellow-headed Amazon parrot
A yellow-headed Amazon chick is cared for at the Belize Bird Rescue center. Image courtesy of Anouk Langerak.

Since starting the program in 2014, 119 at-risk chicks have been saved from inadequate or compromised nests, and all but three have been hand-raised and returned to the wild. Others continue to be brought to the BBR rehabilitation center for rehab and future release. BBR depends on donations to fund the staffing and logistics needed to save these chicks. Without teams in the field to help, many chicks are lost to poachers and nest overcrowding.

In addition, 46 captively-held adults have been successfully released to the wild since 2014, and 38 others remain in rehab for future release. These are birds that people had in their homes and were either surrendered to BBR or confiscated from the illegal pet trade. The good news, it is now illegal to capture or keep wildlife in Belize, and the government is now stepping up enforcement: definitely a start toward better protection for the yellow-heads. But sadly poaching is still a problem for this storied species.

A nest box set in tree for yellow-headed Amazon parrots in their native Belize
Belize Bird Rescue’s effort to save yellow-headed Amazon parrots includes putting up nest boxes in trees in their native savannah habitat. Image courtesy Belize Bird Rescue.

Between saving chicks for future release, or taking in captive or illegally traded adults, BBR is doing magnificent work that is essential to the survival of this Amazon species in the wild.

Lafeber’s GLOBAL PARROT grant this month goes to support the continued repopulation of the yellow-headed Amazon of Belize and the essential work of the Belize Bird Rescue for their preservation. If you would also like to help or learn more, go to:  https://belizebirdrescue.wixsite.com/bbr-1/yellow-head-amazon









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