Until recent years the Amazon parrot has been sadly neglected as an aviary subject. This negative attitude was generally adopted because the parrots very abundance prevented it from commanding a high price. Its low monetary worth did not justify apportioning valuable aviary space to a pair of such common birds.
In the seventies a change of attitude came about with the introduction of quarantine restrictions adopted by many importing countries. This, together with new legislation imposed by some Central and South American countries prohibited exportation of their flora and fauna. Suddenly, the Amazon parrot became a much more desirable aviary bird.
The closing of the borders did little to stop illicit trading. If the county of origin for one species closed, then it found its way into a state from which it could be exported. Even the most closely protected of birds are still available to the unprincipled who are prepared to pay exorbitant prices for these vulnerable birds.
Amazons are often referred to as green parrots, signifying just how little the genus is understood outside aviculture. The body color of most is indeed basically green, varying from darkest shades in some species to an almost yellowish green in others.
Intricate patterns of all spectrums of the rainbow identify the different species. These distinguishing splashes of color are carried mostly on the head, breast, wing coverts and flight feathers. The most familiar Amazon parrots kept as pet birds are Blue-fronted Amazona aestiva, the Yellow-crowned Amazona ochrocephala and the Orange-winged Amazona, amazonica. These have been distributed around the world in legionary numbers especially since aviation reduced travel time between continents. This trade does surely raise a question of morality. Traffic reported that over 3.5 million birds were in the inter-
national trade in 1987. The U.S. has allowed the legal import of over 8 million birds between 1980 and 1989.
Should these birds be taken from their natural habitat to accommodate an insatiable pet market? One could argue that the life expectancy of the wild birds is much shorter than that of the well cared for captive birds. But for every wild caught kept bird established above five years, many hundred others have perished along the way, mostly through ignorance, disease and poor management.
Recentchangesbroughtaboutbythe white man in the use of forest-covered land, particularly the rain forest, have presented a significant influence over the Amazon parrot. The destruction of immense areas of habitat in favor of logging, beef farming, maize crops, fossil and mineral extraction has rendered many parrots vulnerable. Hitherto lesser known species have now become accessible to the pet trade. In fact the complete Amazon parrot genus can be found in captivity.
When many thousands of hectares of forest are felled and destroyed over a short space of time, the ecosystem of the whole area is lost. The native man loses his home, his village and his hunting grounds. Bird life once supported there is forced to seek refuge in other areas, putting pressure on the resident bird population in those new areas.
The overall population of parrots occupying an undisturbed habitat will remain more or less constant, outside of natural disasters. In general, flocks in any one area are governed by the number of nesting holes available.
Some flocks of Amazon parrots have extensive feeding areas and can almost be considered nomadic, others are confined to relatively small islands. Historical records show that parrot populations on islands in the Antilles have been greatly reduced, and, on some islands are extinct. Nine species of Amazon are confined to islands in the Caribbean, with two species on Jamaica and Dominica, and one each on Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. Those on the larger islands of Jamaica, Cuba and Hispaniola are not thought to be endangered although after hurricane Gilbert 1988 this may no longer be the case for two species on Jamaica and there is little recent information from Cuba.
On Puerto Rico the wild population
had declined to 13 individuals by 1975. An intensive management program was started centered upon the Luquillo Forest in the eastern mountains, where the small population had settled, due to demands on its natural habitat. The decline of vittata is well documented. Snyder 1987 states that the species was originally abundant on the island and indeed extrapolation from 1956 figures yields a conservative figure of 84,000 birds for pre-Columbus times, the true number being perhaps several hundred thousand or even a million. Then another survey in 1963 estimated 1,330 to 2,000 birds - so the decline in numbers gained pace. Over the years severe hurricanes have ravaged the area. In 1972 two birds were trapped from the wild population of 16. The captive breeding brought its rewards and by 1989 there were 53 birds in captivity and a wild population of 47. This was not an easy project to manage, as it rains most days of the year. The downpour is extremely heavy.
The next most endangered is the Imperial Parrot of Dominica at present 50 to 100, 1972, 150 to 200. There was a time in the past when it was believed the inaccessibility of its haunts rendered this species secure but logging, hunting and hurricanes took its toll. Predation of course is also a natural hazard.
Measures have had to be taken to try to prevent the further importation, with incorrect papers, of this noble Amazon, together with the Red-necked into Europe.
The second species of parrot on Dominica is the Red-necked and it estimated at 250-300 individuals centered on Morne Diablotin. A large part of the northern forests come within a reserve.
Whereas Dominica still retains tracts of forest. On St. Lucia and St. Vincent much of the forest had been cleared for agriculture by the middle of the century, and hunting was a major pressure. Numbers of St. Lucia Parrots were estimated to be down to one hundred individuals in 1977 and the situation was made worse by the effects of hurricane Allen in 1980. However, an energetic conservation education program, mounted by the local Forestry Division with the help of Paul Butler, has gone a long way to conserving the species, the remnant forests being protected and hunting much reduced.